Amount of Gray Matter May Impact Risk-Taking

New research suggests the physical composition of the brain influences the individual tolerance of risk.

Australian researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to perform a whole-brain analysis and discovered the volume of the outer layer of our brain, or gray matter, is related to a person’s willingness to take risks.

Specifically, Dr. Agnieszka Tymula, an economist at the University of Sydney, and international collaborators posit the amount of gray matter in the right posterior parietal cortex can serve as a biomarker for financial risk-attitudes.

Men and women with higher grey matter volume in this region exhibited less risk aversion.

“Individual risk attitudes are correlated with the grey matter volume in the posterior parietal cortex, suggesting existence of an anatomical biomarker for financial risk-attitude,” said Tymula.

This means tolerance of risk “could potentially be measured in billions of existing medical brain scans.”

But she has cautioned against making a causal link between brain structure and behavior. More research will be needed to establish whether structural changes in the brain lead to changes in risk attitude or whether that individual’s risky choices alter his or her brain structure — or both.

“The findings fit nicely with our previous findings on risk attitude and ageing. In our Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences paper in 2013 we found that as people age they become more risk averse,” she said.

“From other work we know that cortex thins substantially as we age. It is possible that changes in risk attitude over lifespan are caused by thinning of the cortex.”

The findings are published in the The Journal of Neuroscience.

Source: University of Sydney


MRI scan of the brain photo by shutterstock.