AANS Neurosurgeon | Volume 27, Number 2, 2018


Brain Structure Best Explains Our Dwindling Tolerance of Risk

Our brain’s structure, not simply getting older and wiser, most affects our attitudes to risk, according to new research. The University of Sydney’s Dr. Agnieszka Tymula has for years been studying the factors that influence human decision-making. Until now, researchers could not saw whether our tendency to make fewer risky decisions as we age was due to the wisdom of growing older, or our brain structures. Dr. Tymula and her co-authors from New York University, Yale University, University College London and Trinity College show risk aversion is better explained by changes in grey matter volume in an area in the brain’s right posterior parietal cortex, rather than by age itself. “We know that as people age, they tend to become more averse to taking risks,” said Dr. Tymula. “Yet, it seems there is something to the saying that everybody ages at a different pace. Our research suggests the speed at which our brain’s structure changes has a greater impact on our tolerance of risk than chronological age.” In an experiment, the researchers asked more than 50 adults aged 18 to 88 to make choices between a guaranteed gain of $5 or ambiguous and risky lotteries with a payout of up to $120. Older participants preferred the guaranteed option, compared to younger participants. 

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