This tiny part of your brain influenced you to buy a Powerball ticket
Scientists might have singled out the one small portion of your brain that influenced your decision whether or not to buy that $800-million jackpot Powerball ticket, according to a new study published in the journal Neuron.
Researchers at the Stanford Neurosciences Institute used diffusion-weighted MRIs to study a tract of neurons that connects two different brain regions associated with our comprehension of risks and rewards—anterior insula and nucleus accumbens.
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"Activity in one brain region appears to indicate 'Uh oh, I might lose money,' but in another seems to indicate 'Oh yay, I could win something,'" Brian Knutson, associate professor of psychology and lead researcher, said in a Stanford news release on Thursday. "The balance between this 'uh oh' and 'oh yay' activity differs between people and can determine the gambling decisions we make."
Knutson and his team gave 37 subjects $10 to gamble in various games. The gamblers were then placed in an MRI chamber where they could see a roulette wheel as well as the odds of winning or losing on each spin. Each spin cost a different amount of money. As the subjects contemplated their bets, researchers studied their brain activities, paying particular attention to the tract of neurons that connects these two regions of the brain. In each of the participants, they found that those who had a thicker layer of fatty tissue surrounding that tract—indicating a stronger connection between the two regions—made more cautious gambling decisions.
Click through for photos of ticket buyers vying for the big prize:
The results also suggested that people are most enticed by gambling opportunities that present a smaller chance of winning a lot of money combined with a small chance of losing a little money. There have been few examples in history that fit that description as closely as the current Powerball lottery, which costs $2 for a chance to win $800 million.
Knuston said he hopes the study will inspire research on curbing risky behavior through focusing on this area of the brain.
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