Individual differences in risk preference predict neural responses during financial decision-making

Jan B. Engelmann, Diana Tamir

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

73 Scopus citations


We investigated the neural correlates of subjective valuations during a task involving risky choices about lotteries. Because expected value was held constant across all lotteries, decisions were influenced by subjective preferences, which manifest behaviorally as risk-seeking or risk-averse attitudes. To isolate structures encoding risk preference during choice, we probed for areas showing increased activation as a function of selected risk-level. Such response patterns were obtained in anterior (ACC) and posterior cingulate cortex (PCC), superior frontal gyrus, caudate nucleus, and substantia nigra. Behavioral results revealed the presence of risk-averse and risk-neutral individuals. In parallel, brain signals revealed modulation of activity by risk attitude during choice. Correlations between risk-seeking attitudes and neural activity during risky choice were obtained in superior and inferior frontal gyri, medial and lateral orbitofrontal cortex, and parahippocampal gyrus, while correlations with risk-averse attitudes were found in the caudate. The dynamics of neural responses relevant to each stage of the task (decision, anticipation, outcome) were investigated via timeseries and conjunction analyses. Though the networks engaged in each of the task stages were mostly distinct, regions within ACC, PCC and caudate were consistently activated during each decision-making phase. These results demonstrate (1) that subjective assessments of risk, as well as individual attitudes toward risk, play a significant role in modulating activity within brain regions recruited during decision-making, and (2) that ACC, PCC and caudate are relevant during each phase of a decision-making task requiring subjective valuations, strengthening the role of these regions in self-referential subjective valuations during choice.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)28-51
Number of pages24
JournalBrain Research
StatePublished - Sep 22 2009
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Molecular Biology
  • General Neuroscience
  • Developmental Biology


  • Anterior cingulate cortex
  • Decision-making
  • Expected utility
  • Individual differences
  • Posterior cingulate cortex
  • Risk
  • Task phase
  • fMRI


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