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Neuropsychologia. 2011 Apr;49(5):937-44. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2011.02.038. Epub 2011 Feb 24.

Uncovering putative neural markers of risk avoidance.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, City University of New York, Brooklyn, NY 11210, USA.


Risk avoidance is a hallmark of psychopathological conditions such as anxiety disorders. Yet few studies have examined its neural basis. The present work sought to identify the neural correlates of risk avoidance. While functional MRI scans were acquired, healthy adults (N=23) played a Wheel of Fortune game during which they chose to bet or pass on each of 104 proposed gamble trials. Participants also completed the Cognitive Appraisal of Risky Events (CARE, Fromme et al., 1997), a self-report measure of "real world" risky behavior. As expected, decision-making was associated with activation, as measured by increased BOLD responses, of the striatum, insula, anterior cingulate cortex, dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, and parietal lobe. Risk avoidance during probabilistic trials (percent of trials passed) was significantly correlated with precuneus and striatal responses to trials with a certain outcome (No-Risk). Similarly, "real world" risk avoidance, as measured by the CARE, was significantly correlated with precuneus activity during No-Risk trials. Collectively, these data suggest that precuneus and striatal responses to decision-making under certainty represent putative neural markers of risk avoidance in the laboratory and in the "real world." Further, they underline the need to extend neuroimaging research on risk avoidance, and associated anxiety disorders, to posterior cortical regions.

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