People differ in the way they approach and handle choices with unsure outcomes. In this study we demonstrate that individual differences in the neural processing of gains and losses relates to attentional differences in the way individuals search for information in gambles. Fifty subjects participated in two independent experiments. Participants first completed an fMRI experiment involving financial gains and losses. Subsequently, they performed an eye-tracking experiment on binary choices between risky gambles, each displaying monetary outcomes and their respective probabilities. We find that individual differences in gain and loss processing relate to attention distribution. Individuals with a stronger reaction to gains in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) paid more attention to monetary amounts, while a stronger reaction in the ventral striatum (VS) to losses was correlated with an increased attention to probabilities. Reaction in the posterior cingulate cortex (PCC) to losses was also found to correlate with an increased attention to probabilities. Our data shows that individual differences in brain activity and differences in information search processes are closely linked.
Significance Statement The processing of gains and losses has been thoroughly investigated in the field of decision making using different methods such as eye-tracking and neuroimaging. Even though previous studies have combined both of these methods in single tasks before, this is the first study that correlates the results from two separate tasks employing either method. Using this approach, we show for the first time that individual differences in neural gain and loss processing relate to individual differences in the information search phase of risky gambles. These results emphasize the functional interplay between attention and the neural circuits of reward and loss processing.
Authors report no conflict of interest.
The study was partly funded by the Frankfurt Institute for Risk Management and Regulation (FIRM) and BW was supported by a Heisenberg Grant of the German Research Foundation ((Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG)), WE 4427(3—2), http://www.dfg.de/en/research_funding/programmes/ individual/heisenberg/). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.