A gambler’s decision to stay or fold in a game of cards could be influenced by a chemical in the brain, suggests new research from Stan Floresco, professor in UBC’s Dept. of Psychology.
The rise and fall of dopamine plays a key role in decisions involving risk and reward, from a baseball player trying to steal a base to an investor buying or selling a stock. Previous studies have shown that dopamine signals increase when risky choices pay off.
“Our brains are constantly updating how we calculate risk and reward based on previous experiences, keeping an internal score of wins and losses,” says Stan Floresco, a co-author of the study. “Dopamine appears to play an important role in these processes, influencing our everyday choices.”
The study saw rats choose between safe and risky rewards – similar to what investors face on Wall Street. Pressing one lever gave the rodents a small, but guaranteed reward, not unlike a bond. The other lever yielded a large reward or nothing, similar to a high-risk stock. Read the full story on UBC News.
The study, Overriding Phasic Dopamine Signals Redirects Action Selection during Risk/Reward Decision Making, is published in Neuron.
Floresco’s co-authors are Colin Stopper, Maric Tse, David Montes and Candice Wiedman of UBC’s Dept. of Psychology and the Brain Research Centre.