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Neuropsychopharmacology. 2009 Sep;34(10):2208-17. doi: 10.1038/npp.2009.48. Epub 2009 May 13.

Balancing risk and reward: a rat model of risky decision making.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX 77843-4235, USA.


We developed a behavioral task in rats to assess the influence of risk of punishment on decision making. Male Long-Evans rats were given choices between pressing a lever to obtain a small, 'safe' food reward and a large food reward associated with risk of punishment (footshock). Each test session consisted of 5 blocks of 10 choice trials, with punishment risk increasing with each consecutive block (0, 25, 50, 75, 100%). Preference for the large, 'risky' reward declined with both increased probability and increased magnitude of punishment, and reward choice was not affected by the level of satiation or the order of risk presentation. Performance in this risky decision-making task was correlated with the degree to which the rats discounted the value of probabilistic rewards, but not delayed rewards. Finally, the acute effects of different doses of amphetamine and cocaine on risky decision making were assessed. Systemic amphetamine administration caused a dose-dependent decrease in choice of the large risky reward (ie, it made rats more risk averse). Cocaine did not cause a shift in reward choice, but instead impaired the rats' sensitivity to changes in punishment risk. These results should prove useful for investigating neuropsychiatric disorders in which risk taking is a prominent feature, such as attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder and addiction.

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