Do you feel your nucleus accumbens, punk? Well, do ya?31 Aug 2005
According to Nature News, Brian Knutson and Camelia Kuhnen of Stanford have discovered that the interaction between two brain regions is involved in determining whether people take risks:
As centres for pleasure and anxiety battle it out, a simple brain scan of the two can actually predict what a person will chose to do a few seconds before they do it: when joy beats worry in our brain, a risky decision is made.
Studies of how the mind handles risky behaviour have highlighted a number of neural hotspots. One is a peanut-sized region of the brain called the nucleus accumbens, which is loaded with the molecule dopamine and becomes active in anticipation of pleasure. The nucleus accumbens is known to play a role in the addictive affect of drugs.
Another region, known as the anterior insula, is stimulated in anticipation of a bad sensation. This area lights up in those predicting the onset of physical pain, and in generally anxious individuals.
This doesn't complete the causal chain behind such decision-making. Indeed, the relative activity of these two regions may be better understood as a correlate of decision-making. Whether these dualing motivations are resolved in one way or another depends on other, earlier links in the chain.
It would be interesting to know if normally anxious people had a different threshold for action than normally risk-taking people, or whether instead, one or the other of the brain areas were simply more active in one than in the other.
The question for this week: what will my anterior insula let me get away with writing about...