Emotional Brain Centers Help Cope With Uncertainty
Emotional processing areas of the brain spring into action when a person
faces a decision laced with uncertainty, a team of neuroscientists and
economists has discovered.
This new information, reported in Science, about the "hardwiring"
of decisions made in the face of missing information "is important
because it is a fundamental activity at every societal level, from people
saving for retirement, to companies pricing insurance, to countries evaluating
military, social and environmental risks" such as preparing for climate
change or a terrorist attack, say Ming Hsu and colleagues.
Research shows that people are more comfortable with decisions where
the risks are known, compared to ambiguous choices where risks are uncertain
due to missing information. Hsu and colleagues presented these "risk
versus uncertainty" decisions to people in the form of a gambling
game. Using imaging techniques to watch the brain in action during these
choices, the researchers found that the amygdala and the orbitofrontal
cortex, both emotion-processing areas, become more active when presented
with an ambiguous decision.
Patients who had lesions in the orbitalfrontal cortex did not show the
normal preference for risky rather than ambiguous decisions, further suggesting
the region's important role in coping with uncertain choices. A related
"Perspective" article further discusses these findings.
8 December 2005