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Caltech neuroscientists discover brain area responsible for fear of losing money
Date:2/8/2010

PASADENA, Calif.Neuroscientists at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and their colleagues have tied the human aversion to losing money to a specific structure in the brainthe amygdala.

The finding, described in the latest online issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), offers insight into economic behavior, and also into the role of the brain's amygdalae, two almond-shaped clusters of tissue located in the medial temporal lobes. The amygdala registers rapid emotional reactions and is implicated in depression, anxiety, and autism.

The research team that made these findings consists of Benedetto de Martino, a Caltech visiting researcher from University College London and first author on the study; Colin Camerer, the Robert Kirby Professor of Behavioral Economics; and Ralph Adolphs, the Bren Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience and professor of biology.

The study involved an examination of two patients whose amygdalae had been destroyed due to a very rare genetic disease; those patients, along with individuals without amygdala damage, volunteered to participate in a simple "experimental economics task."

In the task, the subjects were asked whether or not they were willing to accept a variety of monetary gambles, each with a different possible gain or loss. For example, participants were asked whether they would take a gamble in which there was an equal probability they'd win $20 or lose $5 (a risk most people will choose to accept) and if they would take a 50/50 gamble to win $20 or lose $20 (a risk most people will not choose to accept). They were also asked if they'd take a 50/50 gamble on winning $20 or losing $15a risk most people will reject, "even though the net expected outcome is positive," Adolphs says.

Both of the amygdala-damaged patients took risky gambles much more often than subjects of the same age and education who had no amygdala damage. I
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Contact: Kathy Svitil
ksvitil@caltech.edu
626-395-8022
California Institute of Technology
Source:Eurekalert

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