Rawlsian maximin rule operates as a common cognitive anchor in distributive justice and risky decisions.
ABSTRACT: 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:Risky decision making for others is ubiquitous in our societies. Whereas financial decision making for oneself induces strong concern about the worst outcome (maximin concern) as well as the expected value, behavioral and neural characteristics of decision making for others are less well understood. We conducted behavioral and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) experiments to examine the neurocognitive underpinnings of risky decisions for an anonymous other, using decisions for self as a benchmark. We show that, although the maximin concern affected both types of decisions equally strongly, decision making for others recruited a more risk-neutral computational mechanism than decision making for self. Specifically, participants exhibited more balanced information search when choosing a risky option for others. Activity of right temporoparietal junction (rTPJ, associated with cognitive perspective taking) was parametrically modulated by options' expected values in decisions for others, and by the minimum amounts in decisions for self. Furthermore, individual differences in self-reported empathic concern modified these attentional and neural processes. Overall, these results indicate that the typical maximin concern is attenuated in a risk-neutral direction in decisions for others as compared to self. We conjecture that, given others' diverse preferences, deciding as a neutral party may cognitively recruit such risk-neutrality.
Project description:Individuals' risk attitudes are known to guide choices about uncertain options. However, in the presence of others' decisions, these choices can be swayed and manifest as riskier or safer behavior than one would express alone. To test the mechanisms underlying effective social 'nudges' in human decision-making, we used functional neuroimaging and a task in which participants made choices about gambles alone and after observing others' selections. Against three alternative explanations, we found that observing others' choices of gambles increased the subjective value (utility) of those gambles for the observer. This 'other-conferred utility' was encoded in ventromedial prefrontal cortex, and these neural signals predicted conformity. We further identified a parametric interaction with individual risk preferences in anterior cingulate cortex and insula. These data provide a neuromechanistic account of how information from others is integrated with individual preferences that may explain preference-congruent susceptibility to social signals of safety and risk.
Project description:Risky decision-making is significantly affected by homeostatic states associated with different prior risk experiences, yet the neural mechanisms have not been well understood. Using functional MRI, we examined how gambling decisions and their underlying neural responses were modulated by prior risk experiences, with a focus on the insular cortex since it has been implicated in interoception, emotion and risky decision-making. Fourteen healthy young participants were scanned while performing a gambling task that was designed to simulate daily-life risk taking. Prior risk experience was manipulated by presenting participants with gambles that they were very likely to accept or gambles that they were unlikely to accept. A probe gamble, which was sensitive to individual's risk preference, was presented to examine the effect of prior risk experiences (Risk vs. Norisk) on subsequent risky decisions. Compared to passing on a gamble (Norisk), taking a gamble, especially winning a gamble (Riskwin), was associated with significantly stronger activation in the insular and dorsal medial prefrontal cortices. Decision making after Norisk was more risky and more likely to recruit activation of the insular and anterior cingulate cortices. This insular activity during decision making predicted the extent of risky decisions both within- and across-subjects, and was also correlated with an individual's personality trait of urgency. These findings suggest that the insula plays an important role in activating representations of homeostatic states associated with the experience of risk, which in turn exerts an influence on subsequent decisions.
Project description:Decision-making competence reflects individual differences in the susceptibility to committing decision-making errors, measured using tasks common from behavioral decision research (e.g., framing effects, under/overconfidence, following decision rules). Prior research demonstrates that those with higher decision-making competence report lower incidence of health-risking and antisocial behaviors, but there has been less focus on intermediate processes that may impact real-world decisions, and, in particular, those implicated by normative models. Here we test the associations between measures of youth decision-making competence (Y-DMC) and one such process, the degree to which individuals make choices consistent with maximizing expected value (EV). Using a task involving hypothetical gambles, we find that greater EV sensitivity is associated with greater Y-DMC. Higher Y-DMC scores are associated with (a) choosing risky options when EV favors those options and (b) avoiding risky options when EV favors a certain option. This relationship is stronger for gambles that involved potential losses. The results suggest that Y-DMC captures decision processes consistent with standard normative evaluations of risky decisions.
Project description:Approximately 10% of young adults report non-medical use of stimulants (cocaine, amphetamine, methylphenidate), which puts them at risk for the development of dependence. This fMRI study investigates whether subjects at early stages of stimulant use show altered decision making processing.158 occasional stimulants users (OSU) and 50 comparison subjects (CS) performed a "risky gains" decision making task during which they could select safe options (cash in 20 cents) or gamble them for double or nothing in two consecutive gambles (win or lose 40 or 80 cents, "risky decisions"). The primary analysis focused on risky versus safe decisions. Three secondary analyses were conducted: First, a robust regression examined the effect of lifetime exposure to stimulants and marijuana; second, subgroups of OSU with >1000 (n = 42), or <50 lifetime marijuana uses (n = 32), were compared to CS with <50 lifetime uses (n = 46) to examine potential marijuana effects; third, brain activation associated with behavioral adjustment following monetary losses was probed.There were no behavioral differences between groups. OSU showed attenuated activation across risky and safe decisions in prefrontal cortex, insula, and dorsal striatum, exhibited lower anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and dorsal striatum activation for risky decisions and greater inferior frontal gyrus activation for safe decisions. Those OSU with relatively more stimulant use showed greater dorsal ACC and posterior insula attenuation. In comparison, greater lifetime marijuana use was associated with less neural differentiation between risky and safe decisions. OSU who chose more safe responses after losses exhibited similarities with CS relative to those preferring risky options.Individuals at risk for the development of stimulant use disorders presented less differentiated neural processing of risky and safe options. Specifically, OSU show attenuated brain response in regions critical for performance monitoring, reward processing and interoceptive awareness. Marijuana had additive effects by diminishing neural risk differentiation.
Project description:Many everyday actions are implicit gambles because imprecisions in our visuomotor systems place probabilities on our success or failure. Choosing optimal action strategies involves weighting the costs and gains of potential outcomes by their corresponding probabilities, and requires stable representations of one's own imprecisions. How this ability is acquired during development in childhood when visuomotor skills change drastically is unknown. In a rewarded rapid reaching task, 6- to 11-year-old children followed 'risk-seeking' strategies leading to overly high point-loss. Adults' performance, in contrast, was close to optimal. Children's errors were not explained by distorted estimates of value or probability, but may reflect different action selection criteria or immature integration of value and probability information while planning movements. These findings provide a starting point for understanding children's risk-taking in everyday visuomotor situations when suboptimal choices can be dangerous. Moreover, children's risky visuomotor decisions mirror those reported for non-motor gambles, raising the possibility that common processes underlie development across decision-making domains.
Project description:Losses are a possibility in many risky decisions, and organisms have evolved mechanisms to evaluate and avoid them. Laboratory and field evidence suggests that people often avoid risks with losses even when they might earn a substantially larger gain, a behavioral preference termed "loss aversion." The cautionary brake on behavior known to rely on the amygdala is a plausible candidate mechanism for loss aversion, yet evidence for this idea has so far not been found. We studied two rare individuals with focal bilateral amygdala lesions using a series of experimental economics tasks. To measure individual sensitivity to financial losses we asked participants to play a variety of monetary gambles with possible gains and losses. Although both participants retained a normal ability to respond to changes in the gambles' expected value and risk, they showed a dramatic reduction in loss aversion compared to matched controls. The findings suggest that the amygdala plays a key role in generating loss aversion by inhibiting actions with potentially deleterious outcomes.
Project description:BACKGROUND:Neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1) is a monogenic disorder affecting cognitive function. About one third of children with NF1 have attentional disorders, and the cognitive phenotype is characterized by impairment in prefrontally-mediated functions. Mouse models of NF1 show irregularities in GABA release and striatal dopamine metabolism. We hypothesized that youth with NF1 would show abnormal behavior and neural activity on a task of risk-taking reliant on prefrontal-striatal circuits. METHODS:Youth with NF1 (N=29) and demographically comparable healthy controls (N=22), ages 8-19, were administered a developmentally sensitive gambling task, in which they chose between low-risk gambles with a high probability of obtaining a small reward, and high-risk gambles with a low probability of obtaining a large reward. We used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to investigate neural activity associated with risky decision making, as well as age-associated changes in these behavioral and neural processes. RESULTS:Behaviorally, youth with NF1 tended to make fewer risky decisions than controls. Neuroimaging analyses revealed significantly reduced neural activity across multiple brain regions involved in higher-order semantic processing and motivation (i.e., anterior cingulate, paracingulate, supramarginal, and angular gyri) in patients with NF1 relative to controls during the task. We also observed atypical age-associated changes in neural activity in patients with NF1, such that during risk taking, neural activity tended to decrease with age in controls, whereas it tended to increase with age in patients with NF1. CONCLUSIONS:Findings suggest that developmental trajectories of neural activity during risky decision-making may be disrupted in youth with NF1.
Project description: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:Adolescence is often viewed as a time of irrational, risky decision-making - despite adolescents' competence in other cognitive domains. In this study, we examined the strategies used by adolescents (N=30) and young adults (N=47) to resolve complex, multi-outcome economic gambles. Compared to adults, adolescents were more likely to make conservative, loss-minimizing choices consistent with economic models. Eye-tracking data showed that prior to decisions, adolescents acquired more information in a more thorough manner; that is, they engaged in a more analytic processing strategy indicative of trade-offs between decision variables. In contrast, young adults' decisions were more consistent with heuristics that simplified the decision problem, at the expense of analytic precision. Collectively, these results demonstrate a counter-intuitive developmental transition in economic decision making: adolescents' decisions are more consistent with rational-choice models, while young adults more readily engage task-appropriate heuristics.