Although there is no specific region of the brain that motivates us to take risks, lose our fear of uncertainty and push boundaries, a new study by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania has identified a brain “signature” that can be traced in different regions of the brain. brain when making these types of choices.
According to a Press release, the scientists verified relationships with genetic patterns and environmental factors, as well as a connection between genes, lower levels of gray matter and risk behavior.
Why do some people jump into the void almost without thinking and instead others need a long time of analysis? What leads some to constantly fall into addictions and others to maintain a healthy life? What is the cause that determines to take a financial or economic risk or preserve a conservative attitude?
All these questions are what the American specialists tried to solve in their study, published in the journal Nature Human Behavior. The research, which included data from more than 12,000 people in an initial stage and then added information from another 13,000 in a new instance, found a brain signature that identifies risky behavior and makes it visible in brain anatomy.
A large-scale study
The specialists used data from the UK Biobank, specifically brain scans and genetic data.
They analyzed information from more than 25 thousand adults of European descent, if we take into account the original stage and then the second phase in which the study was replicated in another set of volunteers.
To define the predisposition to risk, they took into account conditions reported by the volunteers themselves, such as a tendency to different addictions or problems for violating traffic regulations, among other aspects.
The researchers noted that no study on this topic that included such a significant amount of data had been conducted so far. They maintain that this aspect allows to reach conclusions and firmer and more reliable results.
Gray matter reduction
The most important finding is that the genetic predisposition towards risky behavior materializes in the brain. It does not do so in one specific area, but in many different regions whose anatomy is altered in risk-takers, according to the scientists’ conclusions.
They found that higher risk tolerance correlates with lower overall gray matter volume. Gray matter carries out basic brain functions, such as muscle control, sensory perception, or decision-making. It is made up of the main cell bodies of the neurons of the central nervous system.
The brain regions most affected by the reduction of gray matter were the amygdala, involved in feelings of fear and emotion; the hippocampus, which is involved in creating new memories; and the cerebellum, an area related to balance and coordination but which in recent studies has also been linked to cognition and decision-making.
The genetic and environmental question
Ultimately, the research team sought to identify relationships between genes, brain changes, and risk-prone behavior.
After analyzing genetic data from around 300,000 people and comparing them with the cases studied in the framework of this research, they found that the differences observed in gray matter were related in around 2.2% of cases to genetic disposition towards risky behavior.
Experts believe that the lower genetic influence could be explained by the impact of environmental and social factors, which act outside the brain changes. For example, being born into a family with parents who encourage attitude towards risk in their children it could explain part of the observed trends.
In any case, scientists believe that new research is needed to move towards a more precise definition of the relationship established between genetic, brain and environmental factors that predispose to risk.
Genetic underpinnings of risky behaviour relate to altered neuroanatomy. Aydogan, G., Daviet, R., Karlsson Linnér, R. et al. Nature Human Behavior (2021) .DOI: https: //doi.org/10.1038/s41562-020-01027-y
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.