That familiar pull between the promise of victory and the dread of defeat - whether in money, love or sport - is rooted in the brain's architecture, according to a new imaging study.
Neuroscientists at the USC Brain and Creativity Institute have identified distinct brain regions with competing responses to risk.
Both regions are located in the prefrontal cortex, an area behind the forehead involved in analysis and planning.
By giving volunteers a task that measures risk tolerance and observing their reactions with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), the researchers found that activity in one region identified risk-averse volunteers, while activity in a different region was greater in those with an appetite for risk.
The study appeared online Oct. 8 in the journal Cerebral Cortex.
"We can see risk as a battle between two forces," said Antoine Bechara, professor of psychology at USC. "There is always a lure of reward. There's always a fear of failure. These are the two forces that are always battling each other."
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