Preference patterns for skewed gambles in rhesus monkeys.
ABSTRACT: While standard models of risky choice account for the first and second statistical moments of reward outcome distributions (mean and variance, respectively), they often ignore the third moment, skewness. Determining a decision-maker's attitude about skewness is useful because it can help constrain process models of the mental steps involved in risky choice. We measured three rhesus monkeys' preferences for gambles whose outcome distributions had almost identical means and variances but differed in skewness. We tested five distributions of skewness: strong negative, weak negative, normal, weak positive and strong positive. Monkeys preferred positively skewed gambles to negatively skewed ones and preferred strongly skewed and normal (i.e. unskewed) gambles to weakly skewed ones. This pattern of preferences cannot be explained solely by monotonic deformations of the utility curve or any other popular single account, but can be accounted for by multiple interacting factors.
Project description:Few finance theories consider the influence of "skewness" (or large and asymmetric but unlikely outcomes) on financial choice. We investigated the impact of skewed gambles on subjects' neural activity, self-reported affective responses, and subsequent preferences using functional magnetic resonance imaging (FMRI). Neurally, skewed gambles elicited more anterior insula activation than symmetric gambles equated for expected value and variance, and positively skewed gambles also specifically elicited more nucleus accumbens (NAcc) activation than negatively skewed gambles. Affectively, positively skewed gambles elicited more positive arousal and negatively skewed gambles elicited more negative arousal than symmetric gambles equated for expected value and variance. Subjects also preferred positively skewed gambles more, but negatively skewed gambles less than symmetric gambles of equal expected value. Individual differences in both NAcc activity and positive arousal predicted preferences for positively skewed gambles. These findings support an anticipatory affect account in which statistical properties of gambles--including skewness--can influence neural activity, affective responses, and ultimately, choice.
Project description:Individuals sometimes show inconsistent risk preferences, including excessive attraction to gambles featuring small chances of winning large amounts (called "positively skewed" gambles). While functional neuroimaging research indicates that nucleus accumbens (NAcc) and anterior insula (AIns) activity inversely predict risky choice, structural connections between these regions have not been described in humans. By combining diffusion-weighted MRI with tractography, we identified the anatomical trajectory of white-matter tracts projecting from the AIns to the NAcc and statistically validated these tracts using Linear Fascicle Evaluation (LiFE) and virtual lesions. Coherence of the right AIns-NAcc tract correlated with reduced preferences for positively skewed gambles. Further, diminished NAcc activity during gamble presentation mediated the association between tract structure and choice. These results identify an unreported tract connecting the AIns to the NAcc in humans and support the notion that structural connections can alter behavior by influencing brain activity as individuals weigh uncertain gains against uncertain losses.
Project description:Distributive justice concerns the moral principles by which we seek to allocate resources fairly among diverse members of a society. Although the concept of fair allocation is one of the fundamental building blocks for societies, there is no clear consensus on how to achieve "socially just" allocations. Here, we examine neurocognitive commonalities of distributive judgments and risky decisions. We explore the hypothesis that people's allocation decisions for others are closely related to economic decisions for oneself at behavioral, cognitive, and neural levels, via a concern about the minimum, worst-off position. In a series of experiments using attention-monitoring and brain-imaging techniques, we investigated this "maximin" concern (maximizing the minimum possible payoff) via responses in two seemingly disparate tasks: third-party distribution of rewards for others, and choosing gambles for self. The experiments revealed three robust results: (i) participants' distributive choices closely matched their risk preferences-"Rawlsians," who maximized the worst-off position in distributions for others, avoided riskier gambles for themselves, whereas "utilitarians," who favored the largest-total distributions, preferred riskier but more profitable gambles; (ii) across such individual choice preferences, however, participants generally showed the greatest spontaneous attention to information about the worst possible outcomes in both tasks; and (iii) this robust concern about the minimum outcomes was correlated with activation of the right temporoparietal junction (RTPJ), the region associated with perspective taking. The results provide convergent evidence that social distribution for others is psychologically linked to risky decision making for self, drawing on common cognitive-neural processes with spontaneous perspective taking of the worst-off position.
Project description:Older adults are disproportionately targeted by fraud schemes that advertise unlikely but large returns (positively skewed risks). We examined adult age differences in choice and neural activity as individuals considered risky gambles. Gambles were symmetric (50% chance of modest win or loss), positively skewed (25% chance of large gain), or negatively skewed (25% chance of large loss). The willingness to accept positively skewed relative to symmetric gambles increased with age, and this effect replicated in an independent behavioral study. Whole-brain functional magnetic resonance imaging analyses comparing positively (vs. negatively) skewed trials revealed that relative to younger adults, older adults showed increased anticipatory activity for negatively skewed gambles but reduced activity for positively skewed gambles in the anterior cingulate and lateral prefrontal regions. Individuals who were more biased toward positively skewed gambles showed increased activity in a network of regions including the nucleus accumbens. These results reveal age biases toward positively skewed gambles and age differences in corticostriatal regions during skewed risk-taking, and have implications for identifying financial decision biases across adulthood.
Project description:Some people love taking risks, while others avoid gambles at all costs. The neural mechanisms underlying individual variation in preference for risky or certain outcomes, however, remain poorly understood. Although behavioral pathologies associated with compulsive gambling, addiction and other psychiatric disorders implicate deficient serotonin signaling in pathological decision making, there is little experimental evidence demonstrating a link between serotonin and risky decision making, in part due to the lack of a good animal model. We used dietary rapid tryptophan depletion (RTD) to acutely lower brain serotonin in three macaques performing a simple gambling task for fluid rewards. To confirm the efficacy of RTD experiments, we measured total plasma tryptophan using high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) with electrochemical detection. Reducing brain serotonin synthesis decreased preference for the safe option in a gambling task. Moreover, lowering brain serotonin function significantly decreased the premium required for monkeys to switch their preference to the risky option, suggesting that diminished serotonin signaling enhances the relative subjective value of the risky option. These results implicate serotonin in risk-sensitive decision making and, further, suggest pharmacological therapies for treating pathological risk preferences in disorders such as problem gambling and addiction.
Project description:People frequently change their preferences for options of gambles which they play once compared to those they play multiple times. In general, preferences for repeated play gambles are more consistent with the expected values of the options. According to the one-process view, the change in preference is due to a change in the structure of the gamble that is relevant to decision making. According to the two-process view, the change is attributable to a shift in the decision making strategy that is used. To adjudicate between these two theories, we asked participants to choose between gambles played once or 100 times, and to choose between them based on their expected value. Consistent with the two-process theory, we found a set of brain regions that were sensitive to the extent of behavioral change between single and aggregated play and also showed significant (de)activation in the expected value choice task. These results support the view that people change their decision making strategies for risky choice considered once or multiple times.
Project description:Preferences for risky choices have often been shown to be unstable and context-dependent. Though people generally avoid gambles with mixed outcomes, a phenomenon often attributed to loss aversion, contextual factors can impact this dramatically. For example, people typically prefer risky options after a financial loss, while generally choosing safer options after a monetary gain. However, it is unclear what exactly contributes to these preference shifts as a function of prior outcomes, as these gain/loss outcomes are usually confounded with participant performance, and therefore it is unclear whether these effects are driven purely by the monetary gains or losses, or rather by success or failure at the actual task. Here, we experimentally separated the effects of monetary gains/losses from performance success/failure prior to a standard risky choice. Participants performed a task in which they experienced contextual effects: 1) monetary gain or loss based directly on performance, 2) monetary gain or loss that was randomly awarded and was, crucially, independent from performance, and 3) success or failure feedback based on performance, but without any monetary incentive. Immediately following these positive/negative contexts, participants were presented with a gain-loss gamble that they had to decide to either play or pass. We found that risk preferences for identical sets of gambles were biased by positive and negative contexts containing monetary gains and losses, but not by contexts containing performance feedback. This data suggests that the observed framing effects are driven by aversion for monetary losses and not simply by the positive or negative valence of the context, or by potential moods resulting from positive or negative contexts. These results highlight the specific context dependence of risk preferences.
Project description:Invasive species are leading drivers of environmental change. Their impacts are often linked to their population size, but surprisingly little is known about how frequently they achieve high abundances. A nearly universal pattern in ecology is that species are rare in most locations and abundant in a few, generating right-skewed abundance distributions. Here, we use abundance data from over 24,000 populations of 17 invasive and 104 native aquatic species to test whether invasive species differ from native counterparts in statistical patterns of abundance across multiple sites. Invasive species on average reached significantly higher densities than native species and exhibited significantly higher variance. However, invasive and native species did not differ in terms of coefficient of variation, skewness, or kurtosis. Abundance distributions of all species were highly right skewed (skewness>0), meaning both invasive and native species occurred at low densities in most locations where they were present. The average abundance of invasive and native species was 6% and 2%, respectively, of the maximum abundance observed within a taxonomic group. The biological significance of the differences between invasive and native species depends on species-specific relationships between abundance and impact. Recognition of cross-site heterogeneity in population densities brings a new dimension to invasive species management, and may help to refine optimal prevention, containment, control, and eradication strategies.
Project description:Population growth metrics such as R0 are usually asymmetric functions of temperature, with cold-skewed curves arising when the positive effects of a temperature increase outweigh the negative effects, and warm-skewed curves arising in the opposite case. Classically, cold-skewed curves are interpreted as more beneficial to a species under climate warming, because cold-skewness implies increased population growth over a larger proportion of the species's fundamental thermal niche than warm-skewness. However, inference based on the shape of the fitness curve alone, and without considering the synergistic effects of net reproduction, density and dispersal, may yield an incomplete understanding of climate change impacts. We formulate a moving-habitat integrodifference equation model to evaluate how fitness curve skewness affects species' range size and abundance during climate warming. In contrast to classic interpretations, we find that climate warming adversely affects populations with cold-skewed fitness curves, positively affects populations with warm-skewed curves and has relatively little or mixed effects on populations with symmetric curves. Our results highlight the synergistic effects of fitness curve skewness, spatially heterogeneous densities and dispersal in climate change impact analyses, and that the common approach of mapping changes only in R0 may be misleading.
Project description:This experiment was designed to yield precise measures of the statistical properties of perceived sound images. Results are reported for listeners' judgments of intracranial sound image lateral positions in response to binaural tone burst stimuli (250 Hz, 50 ms) with varying interaural phase differences, conditional on the absence or presence of a (left or right) reference monaural tone burst (also 250 Hz, 50 ms) ending 500 ms prior to the test signal. The monaural-reference shifted the position distributions toward the opposite side of the head. The position distribution variance and skewness depended on the mean of the position distribution, not on the interaural phase difference of the stimulus. The standard deviation increased as the mean moved laterally from midline. Near the midline the position distributions were skewed ipsilaterally. Near either ear they were skewed toward the midline. The results suggest that the most important noise limiting performance originates central to brainstem coincidence detector networks.