Those with a larger volume in a particular part of the parietal cortex — which is engaged in a host of cognitive operations — were willing to take more risks than those with lesser volume in that particular part of the brain, the findings showed.
“Based on our findings, we could, in principle, use millions of existing medical brain scans to assess risk attitudes in populations,” said Ifat Levy, an assistant professor in comparative medicine and neurobiology from the Yale School of Medicine in the US.
“It could also help us explain differences in risk attitudes based in part on structural brain differences,” Levy added.
The study included young adult men and women from the north-eastern United States.
Participants made a series of choices between monetary lotteries that varied in their degree of risk and the research team conducted standard MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) brain scans.
The results were first obtained in a group of 28 participants, and then confirmed in a second group of 33 participants.
The researchers had previously shown that risk aversion increases as people age and it is also known that the cortex thins substantially with age.
“It could be that this thinning explains the behavioural changes; we are now testing that possibility,” Levy noted.
The study appeared in the Journal of Neuroscience.