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Sep 09, 2014 07:29 PM EDT

Brain Structure May Predict Risky Behavior

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Brain structure may be able to predict risky behavior, according to a recent study.

Researchers from Yale School of Medicine found that the volume of the parietal cortex in the brain could predict where people fall on the risk-taking spectrum.

Although several cognitive and personality traits are reflected in brain structure, there has been little research linking brain structure to economic preferences. Levy and her colleagues sought to examine this question in their study.

"Based on our findings, we could, in principle, use millions of existing medical brains scans to assess risk attitudes in populations," Ifat Lecy, lead author of the study and assistant professor in comparative medicine and neurobiology, said in a statement. "It could also help us explain differences in risk attitudes based in part on structural brain differences."

Study participants included young adult men and women from the northeastern United States. Participants made a series of choices between monetary lotteries that varied in their degree of risk, and the research team conducted standard anatomical MRI brain scans. The results were first obtained in a group of 28 participants, and then confirmed in a second, independent, group of 33 participants.

"We don't know if structural changes lead to behavioral changes or vice-versa," Levy cautioned/

Levy and her colleagues had previously shown that risk aversion increases as people age, and we scientists also know that the cortex thins substantially with age.

"It could be that this thinning explains the behavioral changes; we are now testing that possibility," said Levy, who also notes that more studies in wider populations are needed.

The findings were recently published in The Journal of Neuroscience.

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