1. Chronic lack of sleep increases risk-seeking

    September 12, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Zürich press release:

    Young adults have a natural sleep requirement of about 9 hours a day on average, older adults 7.5 hours. Many people in western societies, however, get considerably less sleep. According to studies, about one-third of the persons surveyed in several industrial countries reported too little sleep. If a young adult sleeps less than 8 hours a night, increased attention deficits occur, which can lead to considerable negative consequences. In sleep clinics there is an increasing number of healthy people who are suffering from the negative consequences of insufficient sleep.

    Not enough sleep leads to riskier decision-making

    Researchers at the University of Zurich and the University Hospital Zurich have now identified a further critical consequence of a chronic lack of sleep: increased risk-seeking. The sleep and neuroeconomics scientists studied the risk behavior of 14 healthy male students aged from 18 to 28 years. If the students slept only 5 hours a night for a week, they displayed clearly riskier behavior in comparison with a normal sleep duration of about 8 hours. Twice a day, they had to choose between obtaining a specified amount of money paid out with a given probability or playing it safe with a lower amount of money paid out for sure. The riskier the decision, the higher the possible prize — but also the risk of getting nothing.

    Riskier behavior remains unnoticed

    While a single sleepless night had no effect on risk-seeking, 11 of 14 of the subjects behaved significantly and increasingly riskier as the week of a reduced sleep duration went on. An additional finding is particularly alarming: The students assess their risk-taking behavior to be the same as under regular sleep conditions. “We therefore do not notice ourselves that we are acting riskier when suffering from a lack of sleep,” emphasizes Christian Baumann, professor of neurology and the head of the Clinical Research Priority Programs (CRPP) “Sleep and Health” at UZH. According to the authors of the study, we should therefore all strive for a sufficient sleep duration — especially political and economic leaders who make wide-reaching decisions daily. “The good news is,” Baumann says, “that, in the high-powered world of managers, getting enough sleep is increasingly being seen as desirable.”

    Lack of recovery in important regions of the brain

    For the first time, the researchers have proven that a low depth of sleep in the right prefrontal cortex is directly connected with higher risk-seeking behavior. This part of the cerebral cortex has already been associated with risk-taking behavior in earlier studies. “We assume that behavioral changes occur for anatomical-functional reasons to some extent as a result of the right prefrontal cortex not being able to recover properly due to a chronic lack of sleep,” Baumann concludes.


  2. High moral reasoning associated with increased activity in the human brain’s reward system

    September 10, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine press release:

    Individuals who have a high level of moral reasoning show increased activity in the brain’s frontostriatal reward system, both during periods of rest and while performing a sequential risk taking and decision making task according to a new study from researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine, the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, Shanghai International Studies University in Shanghai, China and Charité Universitätsmediz in Berlin, Germany. The findings from the study, published this month in Scientific Reports, may help researchers to understand how brain function differs in individuals at different stages of moral reasoning and why some individuals who reach a high level of moral reasoning are more likely to engage in certain “prosocial” behaviors — such as performing community service or giving to charity — based on more advanced principles and ethical rules.

    The study refers to Lawrence Kohlberg’s stages of moral development theory which proposes that individuals go through different stages of moral reasoning as their cognitive abilities mature. According to the researchers, Kohlberg’s theory implies that individuals at a lower level of moral reasoning are more prone to judge moral issues primarily based on personal interests or adherence to laws and rules, whereas individuals with higher levels of moral reasoning judge moral issues based on deeper principles and shared ideals.

    The researchers’ previous work found an association between high levels of moral reasoning and gray matter volume, establishing a critical link between moral reasoning and brain structure. This more recent study sought to discover whether a link exists between moral reasoning and brain function.

    In this study, the researchers aimed to investigate whether the development of morality is associated with measurable aspects of brain function. To answer this question, they tested moral reasoning in a large sample of more than 700 Wharton MBA students, and looked at the brain reward system activity in a subset of 64 students, both with and without doing a task. According to Hengyi Rao, PhD, a research assistant professor of Cognitive Neuroimaging in Neurology and Psychiatry in the Perelman School of Medicine and senior author of the study, the team observed considerable individual differences in moral development levels and brain function in this relatively homogeneous and well-educated MBA group of subjects.

    “It is well established in the literature that the brain reward system is involved in moral judgment, decision making, and prosocial behavior. However, it remains unknown whether brain reward system function can be affected by stages of moral development,” Rao said. “To our knowledge, this study is the first to demonstrate the modulation effect of moral reasoning level on human brain reward system activity. Findings from our study provide new insights into the potential neural basis and underlying psychological processing mechanism of individual differences in moral development. ”

    The finding of increased brain reward system activity in individuals at a high level of moral reasoning suggests the importance of positive motivations towards others in moral reasoning development, rather than selfish motives. These findings also support Kohlberg’s theory that higher levels of moral reasoning tend to be promotion and other-focused (do it because it is right) rather than prevention or self-focused (do not do it because it is wrong).

    “Our study documents brain function differences associated with higher and lower levels of moral reasoning. It is still unclear whether the observed brain function differences are the cause or the result of differential levels of moral reasoning,” explained Diana Robertson, PhD, a James T. Riady professor of Legal Studies and Business Ethics at the Wharton School and a co-author of the study. “However, we believe that both factors of nurture, such as education, parental socialization and life experience, and factors of nature, like biological or evolutionary basis, the innate capacities of the mind, and the genetic basis may contribute to individual differences in moral development.”

    The researchers say future studies could expand on this work by assessing to what extent individual differences in moral reasoning development depend on in-born differences or learned experience, and whether education can further promote moral reasoning stage in individuals even past the age at which structural and functional brain maturation is complete.


  3. Telling people not to ‘down’ drinks could make them drink more

    September 1, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Exeter press release:

    Campaigns designed to stop young people “bolting” drinks can be ineffective and can even make them more likely to do it, new research suggests.

    Scientists from the University of Exeter and the University of Queensland examined reactions to a poster warning of the consequences of bolting (downing an alcoholic drink in one) and found it had no effect on people’s future intentions.

    And when a statement was added saying other people disapproved of bolting, study participants reported stronger intentions to bolt in the future.

    However, changing this to a message saying most people “do not bolt drinks on a night out” was effective.

    “Many young people overestimate the extent to which their peers both approve of and engage in risky drinking behaviours,” said study author Dr Joanne Smith, of the University of Exeter.

    “One way to tackle risky drinking is to try to correct these misperceptions through health campaigns, such as posters.

    “In our research, we wanted to explore what kinds of messages are more effective in changing people’s intentions to bolt.

    “Our results highlight the potentially harmful effects of exposure to what’s called an ‘injunctive norm’ — a message about the approval or disapproval of others.

    “Meanwhile, a ‘descriptive norm’ — telling people what others do rather than what they think — had a positive impact.”

    The study is published in the journal Addiction Research and Theory.

    Professor Charles Abraham, of the University of Exeter Medical School, said: “This demonstrates how careful we need to be in selecting the right message in campaigns, and evaluating them before wider dissemination, as poorly designed campaigns, however well-intentioned, can backfire.”

    The research consisted of three studies, in which volunteers (221 in total) saw the poster or did not, and then either received or did not receive messages about what their peers thought or how they behaved.

    In one study, some participants received an accurate message saying 70% of their peers “disapprove of bolting,” and in another some received an accurate message saying 65% of their peers “do not bolt drinks on a night out.”

    They all then completed identical questionnaires to measure their perceptions of group norms related to bolting, and their own intentions to do it in the future.

    The researchers point out that beliefs about how other people behave are often the “best predictor” in terms of general drinking behaviour and binge drinking, but note that using these beliefs to change behaviour needs to be done carefully to ensure campaigns have the desired effect.


  4. Study suggests risktaking in teens is not because of brain development deficit

    August 31, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania press release:

    A popular theory in recent neuroscience proposes that slow development of the prefrontal cortex — and its weak connectivity with brain reward regions — explains teenagers’ seemingly impulsive and risky behavior. But an extensive literature review to be published in the journal Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience challenges that interpretation.

    The researchers examined the evidence behind that argument and found that much of it misinterpreted adolescent exploratory behavior as impulsive and lacking in control. Instead, the review suggests that much of what looks like adolescent impulsivity is behavior that is often guided by the desire to learn about the world.

    “Not long ago, the explanation for teenage behavior was raging hormones,” said lead author Daniel Romer, Ph.D., research director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania. “Now, it’s that the prefrontal cortex isn’t fully developed. Neuroscientists were quick to interpret what appeared to be a characteristic of the developing brain as evidence of stereotypes about adolescent risk taking. But these behaviors are not symptoms of a brain deficit.”

    In their article, now posted online, the authors note that the brain development theory fails to take into account the implications of different kinds of risk taking. Teens have a heightened attraction to novel and exciting experiences, known as sensation seeking, which peaks during adolescence. But teens who exhibit that tendency alone are not necessarily more likely to suffer from health issues like substance use or gambling addiction. In fact, the authors noted that the rise in adolescent levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which may underlie the increased drive for sensation seeking, also supports the brain’s ability to exert greater control and to learn from experience.

    “What’s happening is that adolescents lack experience,” Romer said. “So they’re trying things out for the first time — like learning how to drive. They’re also trying drugs, deciding what to wear and who to hang out with. For some youth, this leads to problems. But when you’re trying things for the first time, you sometimes make mistakes. Researchers have interpreted this as a lack of control when for most youth, it’s just exploration.”

    Brain development and risk taking

    In their article, Romer and his co-authors say that the stereotype of the risky adolescent is based more on the rise of such behavior in adolescence than on its prevalence. “For the vast majority of adolescents,” the researchers write, “this period of development passes without substance dependence, sexually transmitted infection, pregnancy, homicide, depression, suicide, or death due to car crashes.”

    It’s a smaller subset of teens — those who exhibit impulsive behavior and have weak cognitive control — who are most at risk of unhealthy outcomes. Teens with impulse control problems can often be identified at ages four or five, and they are disproportionately likely to experience the hazards of adolescence and beyond, including higher rates of injuries and illnesses from car crashes, violence, and sexually transmitted infections, the authors say.

    “Further research is clearly needed to understand the brain development of youth who are at risk for adverse outcomes, as abnormalities of brain development are certainly linked to diverse neuropsychiatric conditions,” said co-author Theodore Satterthwaite, M.D., a faculty member in the Department of Psychiatry at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. “This research will help us to understand not only what makes adolescence a period of growth but also of risk.”

    An alternative model

    The authors propose an alternative model that emphasizes the role that risk taking and the experience gained by it play in adolescent development. This model explains much of the apparent increase in risk taking by adolescents as “an adaptive need to gain the experience required to assume adult roles and behaviors.” That experience eventually changes the way people think about risk, making it more “gist-like” or thematic and making them more risk averse.

    “Recent meta-analyses suggest that the way individuals think about risks and rewards changes as they mature, and current accounts of brain development must take these newer ideas into account to explain adolescent risk taking,” said co-author Valerie Reyna, Ph.D., director of the Human Neuroscience Institute at Cornell University.

    Romer added, “The reason teens are doing all of this exploring and novelty seeking is to build experience so that they can do a better job in making the difficult and risky decisions in later life — decisions like ‘Should I take this job?’ or ‘Should I marry this person?’ There’s no doubt that this period of development is a challenge for parents, but that’s doesn’t mean that the adolescent brain is somehow deficient or lacking in control.”


  5. Well-designed visual aids improve risk understanding

    August 17, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Oklahoma press release:

    A University of Oklahoma professor, Edward T. Cokely, shows that informed decision making depends on the ability to accurately evaluate and understand information about risk in a newly published study in the scientific journal Human Factors. A state-of-the-science review of the literature concludes that visual aids are beneficial for diverse people with different levels of numeracy and graph literacy. Cokely identifies five categories of practical, evidence-based guidelines for the evaluation and design of visual aids.

    “It is striking to see how effective visual aids can be for diverse people facing complex, life-changing decisions, including physicians, patients and their families,” Cokely said.

    Cokely, Presidential Research Professor and associate professor of psychology, in the OU Department of Psychology and National Institute of Risk and Resilience, collaborated with Rocio Garcia-Retamero, University of Granada in Spain, on the review of “how to” build visual aids that promote understanding and good decision making. Data for the study covered research from January 1995 to April 2016, and 36 publications provided data on 27,885 diverse participants from 60 different countries, concluding that well-designed visual aids tend to be highly effective tools for improving informed decision making among diverse decision makers.

    Cokely and Garcia-Retamero reviewed literature concentrated in health and medical decision making that included findings on the link between skills and quality outcomes. Next, the researchers presented findings on the psychological, social and technological factors which shape the influence of numeracy on risk literacy, decision making and health outcomes. Lastly, they presented a review of research investigating the influence of skills on the benefits of visual aids.

    Visual aids are graphical representations of numerical expressions of probability and include icon arrays, bar and line charts and others and have been used to communicate risk information. However, not all visual aids are equally effective. Visual aids provide an efficient means of risk communication when they are transparent — that is, when they promote unbiased risk understanding and evaluation. This means the visual aid is well defined and accurately and clearly represents the essential risk information. Researchers then focused on individual differences in two relevant skills: numeracy and graph literacy. Numeracy, the ability to use mathematical skills to solve everyday problems, including statistical numeracy, has been found to be one of the strongest single predictors of general decision-making skill and risk literacy. Graph literacy is the ability to evaluate and extract data and meaning from graphical representations of numerical information — another essential component of risk literacy.

    A review of static visual aids to improve risk literacy and promote healthy behavior focused on studies involving people with different levels of numeracy that included a control condition, which compared visual aids with numerical information in written text. Eighty-eight percent of the studies showed static visual aids tend to be beneficial. Static visual aids were helpful for people with low numeracy as long as they had moderate-to-high graph literacy.

    One theme that emerged across some studies is that, on average, “less is more.” Very simple icon arrays including clear explanations to convey the meaning of information can improve understanding. People with different levels of numeracy and graph literacy like, trust and prefer simple icon arrays. These icon arrays offer an efficient means of reaching individuals with different levels of numeracy and graphic literacy. A simple training in the use of icon arrays maximizes potential benefits and reaches vulnerable groups of people with limited graph literacy.

    Visual aids improve accuracy of risk understanding in part because they increase the likelihood that people deliberate more about the relevant risks and trade-offs. Because visual aids cause relatively robust changes in risk understanding by shaping and fine-tuning knowledge representation in long-term memory, visual aids also tend to give rise to more enduring changes in attitudes and behavioral intentions, which can directly affect decision making and healthy behavior. Based on all relevant, available scientific data from the last 20 years, findings indicate that icon arrays tend to be the best “all purpose” type of visual aids.


  6. Secret to giving the perfect gift: stop being afraid

    August 14, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Society for Consumer Psychology press release:

    Have you ever faced the daunting task of deciding what gift to give a significant other, friend or relative? And once you finally find a gift, will it be well received?

    Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University conducted a study to investigate whether recipients are getting the gifts they want, and their findings suggest that the answer is no. When given the choice of receiving a gift that has sentimental value — such as a photograph of a special memory — versus a more superficial gift — such as a jersey from a favorite sports team — givers opt for the superficial gift more often that their recipients expect.

    Why are gift givers missing the mark? The researchers found that most people are unsure whether a sentimental gift will be well-liked, but they are confident that a superficial gift aligning with someone’s interests and preferences will be enjoyed.

    “Essentially, givers seem to view sentimentally valuable gifts as having the potential to be either home runs or strikeouts, but they view preference-matching gifts as a sure single,” says Julian Givi, lead author of the study. “Rather than risking a strikeout, they go for the sure thing, when what recipients truly desire are sentimentally valuable gifts.”

    The researchers discovered this mismatch between givers and receivers in two separate experiments. In the first, participants were told to write down the name of a friend, and those who were “givers” were asked to select a gift for the friend. Some were told it would be a birthday gift while others were told it was for a going away party. They could choose either a framed photo of their friend’s favorite musician, or a framed photo of the two friends on a day they had a lot of fun together. The participants who were “recipients” were asked to select which of the two gifts they would prefer to receive.

    The study results provided evidence that people do not give sentimentally valuable gifts as often as recipients would prefer. The researchers also tested to see whether the level of closeness of two friends made the gift giving mismatch disappear, but there was still a discrepancy.

    Then they tested whether this pattern emerged when romantic partners were giving gifts to one another. In the experiment, partners could give either a gift card to their loved one’s favorite store, or a sentimental gift, such as a photo of the couple with carved initials in the frame. Like the previous experiment, recipients didn’t receive the sentimental gifts as often as they wished.

    Finally, the researchers conducted a study to uncover why givers were not choosing sentimental gifts. In this experiment, one group of participants started by writing about a time in their lives when they took a risk that paid off, while the other group wrote about a time when they took a risk and failed. Then the groups were asked to read a vignette in which they were deciding between two bicycle gifts for a friend. One of the bicycles had sentimental value, while the other was made by a brand the recipient liked.

    The results were consistent with the researchers’ hypothesis: The participants who had written about risks paying off were much more likely to choose the sentimental gift compared to those who had written about risks failing.

    “People spend billions of dollars every year on gifts, and the data suggests that they’re not spending money in the best way possible,” Givi says. “We are also finding evidence in a different project that people feel closer to givers when they receive sentimental gifts, so people should keep this in mind the next time they’re making gift-giving decisions.”


  7. Changes in brain regions may explain why some prefer order and certainty

    July 27, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of California – Los Angeles press release:

    Why do some people prefer stable, predictable lives while others prefer frequent changes? Why do some people make rational decisions and others, impulsive and reckless ones? UCLA behavioral neuroscientists have identified changes in two brain regions that may hold answers to these questions.

    The research — reported by Alicia Izquierdo, UCLA associate professor of psychology and a member of UCLA’s Brain Research Institute, and her psychology graduate student, Alexandra Stolyarova — is published in the open-access online science journal eLife.

    The new experiments, which involved studying the orbitofrontal cortex and basolateral amygdala brain regions, assessed the ability of rats to work for rewards under both stable and variable conditions. Rats earned sugar pellets after choosing between two images displayed side by side. The animals made their selections by using their noses to touch a screen the size of an iPad. When a rat touched one image, it received a sugar pellet at a predictable time — generally 10 seconds later. When the rat touched the other image, it received a sugar pellet at a time that varied. This was the riskier option as the rats might have to wait as little as five seconds or as long as 15 seconds. The rats did this for a month at a time, as long as 45 minutes each day.

    The researchers discovered that the rats learned the task and were able to detect the fluctuations in wait times. When the rats experienced more variation in those wait times for their reward, the amount of the brain protein gephyrin in the basolateral amygdala region doubled, Izquierdo and Stolyarova reported.

    In some of the trials, the researchers made one option better than the other, with a shorter wait time. All rats were able to learn the pattern and make the better choice. They showed some evidence of learning on the first day and did better the second day and on subsequent days. In a group of rats without a functional basolateral amygdala, the rats learned more slowly about the changes, but caught up about two days later.

    Rats without a functional orbitofrontal cortex, however, did not learn at all, and instead treated each experience as a “reset” button, the researchers report. It is as if these rats did not have a record of the full range of possible outcomes. The important role for the orbitofrontal cortex surprised Izquierdo, who said there was more evidence that the basolateral amygdala would be important in conditions of uncertainty, and not as much for the orbitofrontal cortex.

    Stolyarova and Izquierdo are the first scientists to link gephyrin levels to the experience of reward. They report that when the rats experienced risk, the brain protein GluN1 also increased significantly in the basolateral amygdala.

    “I think the experience of uncertainty is making these changes occur in these brain regions,” Izquierdo said.

    All rats chose the risky option more often. The exception was the rats without a functional basolateral amygdala; those animals stayed risk-averse throughout the experiments.

    The orbitofrontal cortex and basolateral amygdala share anatomical connections, and both regions are involved in decision-making, earlier research has shown. The new research indicates this is especially so during changing or uncertain circumstances.

    Changes in these brain regions and brain proteins may help to explain a person’s preference for uncertain outcomes, Izquierdo said. Humans have individual differences in orbitofrontal cortex and basolateral amygdala function and in the expression of these proteins, she noted.

    For example, variations in the gephyrin gene have been linked to autism, and a feature of the disorder is a strong preference for order and certainty.

    In the future, Izquierdo said, precision medicine may be able to target any brain region to treat any disorder, including behavioral addictions such as gambling.

    People with obsessive-compulsive disorder also have a strong preference for order and certainty. Future research may answer whether the same brain changes occur in this disorder as well.


  8. Study suggests parents of newborn daughters take fewer risks

    July 7, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Society for Risk Analysis (SRA) press release:

    Pregnancy and parenting are major psychological events in the life of any individual. Having a baby may be a reason why we change our risk attitudes. According to the UNICEF estimates, 353,000 babies are born daily around the world. This means that a significant proportion of the population may be affected by changes in risk attitudes as a result of becoming a parent. In their study “Female Babies as a Determinant of Adult Risk-Aversion,” Ganna Pogrebna and Andrew Oswald of the Department of Economics at the University of Warwick, and David Haig of the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University, explore the effect of learning a child’s gender on parents’ attitudes towards risky behaviors. In this study, the first of its kind, the authors gathered prenatal and post-birth data from the pediatric wards of hospitals in both the United Kingdom and Ukraine, allowing for longitudinal and cross-sectional analyses of those attitudes.

    As the authors note, “the measured effect of child gender,” once known, “is considerably larger than that of other influences upon adult risk-aversion.” How much larger? Once the child’s gender was revealed before or at birth, parents of daughters prove “almost twice as risk-averse as parents of sons” — a feeling that continues months after the child’s birth. Moreover, the increase in risk averse feelings affected both parents equally, ruling out explanations that might point to hormonal differences between male and female parents.

    This study addresses for expecting parents and field professionals — from medical professionals to doulas — a question long asked but never answered, with respect to what to expect when you’re expecting. It also tells us that parents of boys and girls have different propensity to engage in risky behaviors. This result has interesting implications for the insurance market.

    On a daily basis, we face choices which involve risk and uncertainty. Choosing the road or means of transport on the way to work, buying insurance, even making purchases in the supermarket require a certain degree of risk taking. Research in economics and psychology has established that people’s choices in risky situations are affected by their tolerance to different levels of risk (also known as risk attitudes). Classical economic science argues that risk attitude is a characteristic that each of us is ‘born with’ and that this characteristic does not change during our lifetime. Yet, recent evidence from decision science and psychology suggests that our risk attitudes may change dependent on different circumstances in which we are making decisions. Our risk attitudes may also be affected by our psychological state and different events which occur during our lifetime.

    Dr. Pogrebna will be formally presenting this paper at the June 19-21 conference of the Society for Risk Analysis in Lisbon, Portugal, at the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation.


  9. Study suggests following a friend may lead to unsafe driving behavior

    July 3, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Frontiers press release:

    A new study, published in the open-access journal Frontiers in Psychology provides scientific proof to show that drivers who follow another car to a destination are more likely to drive dangerously.

    “We have found that when someone is asked to follow another vehicle, it can lead to them engaging in risky driving behavior, such as driving faster, making more erratic turns and following too close to the car in front. This is most likely caused by a fear of getting lost,” says Robert Gray, a Professor in Human Systems Engineering, who carried out this research with his team at the Arizona State University, USA.

    He continues, “This study was actually inspired by an accident analysis I was doing for a court case, where a driver was seriously injured in a ‘following a friend’ scenario. Although most people have an intuition it can be dangerous, we couldn’t find any research to back this up.”

    Professor Gray and his colleagues decided to test this intuition by recruiting students with a valid driving licence to participate in a driving simulation. Initially, they were asked to drive wherever they wanted in the simulated city to get an idea of their basic driving behaviour. This was compared to how they drove when guided by a navigation system and also to their driving behaviour when asked to ‘follow your friend in the car in front’. As well assessing their general speed, distance to the car in front and the time it took to move lanes; hazards were presented to see if their behaviour changed under different driving scenarios.

    “We observed changes in behaviour that increased the likelihood of being involved in an accident,” reveals Professor Gray.

    When drivers were ‘following a friend’, they drove faster and more erratically, closer to the car in front and made quicker lane changes, compared to how they drove under normal conditions or with a guided navigation system. In addition, when confronted with hazards in the ‘following a friend’ simulation, the drivers were more likely to cut in front of a pedestrian crossing a road and speed through traffic lights turning red.

    “It is important to note that in our simulation, the leader and other vehicles around them did not break any laws, so the follower was not just copying the risky driving behavior they saw from someone else,” says Professor Gray.

    By using a computerized driving simulation, the study was able to eliminate the contagious effect, where driver behaviour can be influenced by the traffic around them. Drivers often feel a social pressure to keep pace with other traffic and run traffic lights when other vehicles do the same.

    Professor Gray concludes by offering some advice when a friend offers to show you the way. “If you are faced with this situation, get the address from the lead driver and use a map or navigation device so you know how to get there yourself. In the future, we plan to investigate whether some knowledge about the location of the destination can get rid of these dangerous effects.”


  10. Study suggests anxious people worry about risk, not loss

    June 22, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Elsevier press release:

    Life is a series of choices. Every time you make a decision, there is a possibility that things won’t go as expected (risk) or that something bad will happen (loss). Aversion to risk and loss have powerful influences on how we make decisions. In a new paper in Biological Psychiatry, co-senior authors Dr. Jonathan Roiser and Dr. Oliver Robinson, both of the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, University College London, and colleagues studied the influence of risk and loss aversion in people with anxiety, a disorder characterized by debilitating avoidance behavior and difficulties making daily-life decisions.

    Anxious people might, for example, avoid driving over bridges because they are concerned that the bridge might collapse, explained first author Dr. Caroline Charpentier also of the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience. “But is this because they overestimate the risk of this happening (i.e., a difference in risk aversion), or because the devastating consequences loom larger (i.e., a difference in loss aversion)?” The findings of the new study indicate that it may be more about risk than loss.

    “This paper uses a sophisticated computational approach to shed light on why anxiety can be so disabling,” said Dr. John Krystal, Editor of Biological Psychiatry. “Nearly all life decisions involve risk. It appears that anxious people are hypersensitive to these risks, influencing their emotions, thoughts and behavior.”

    In the study, 25 unmedicated patients diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder and 23 healthy participants performed a gambling task to assess decision making. The design of the task addressed a significant omission of previous risky decision-making studies, the independent contributions of risk aversion (from uncertainty about the outcome) and loss aversion (from a disproportionate focus on potential losses). In the task, participants had to make decisions between a safe and risky option. Changing up the gamble — such as a sure gain versus a riskier higher gain or a potential gain versus a potential loss — allowed the researchers to separately assess risk and loss aversion.

    Anxious people had similar levels of loss aversion to healthy people, but showed enhanced risk aversion. “In other words, everyone is loss averse, but anxious people are more reluctant to take risks than non-anxious people,” said Dr. Charpentier.

    The findings refine the understanding of altered cognitive processing in anxiety disorder by disentangling the contributions of risk and loss aversion. Similar levels of loss aversion contrast previous assumptions that people with anxiety dwell excessively on potential negative outcomes, and instead suggest that aversion to taking risks drives avoidance behavior observed in anxious people.

    The study takes an important step toward determining the best approach for cognitive behavioral therapy to reduce avoidance behavior in anxiety disorders. “It suggests that we should focus on encouraging anxious individuals to increase their tolerance of risk rather than dampening down their sensitivity to negative outcomes,” said Dr. Charpentier.