Study says we take risks because we can't stop ourselves

We all make risky choices in our lives. But why do we do it, especially if we’re aware of the consequences? According to a recent study, it’s not because of one’s insatiable cravings or desires. It’s because we lack self-control.

Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, new research from the University of Texas at Austin, UCLA and others tested 108 participants playing a risk-taking video game. During the game, participants received MRI scans so the researchers could examine their brain activity.

The game, called the Balloon Analogue Risk Task (BART) is one of high risk. Players inflate a balloon to earn cash and can turn in their winnings at any point and leave — or run the risk of popping the balloon by continuing to inflate it for more money.

Using specialized software, researchers assessed some participants’ brain activity levels while making these risky choices. Based on the documented brain patterns, the software was able to predict what the other participants would choose 71 percent of the time.

Another part of the study analyzed more precise regions of the brain used for executive functions — control, working memory, attention — through the software. Again, the software easily predicted what an individual’s future choices would be. The researchers then concluded that risky behavior is based on the failure of the brain’s control system to stop the decision.

As one researcher noted, everyone has the same desires, in essence, but it’s whether a person acts on them that makes the difference. Additional research is needed to determine what role external factors play in taking risks. Establishing those factors may help people make the best decisions in risky situations.

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