[BELL RINGING] SPEAKER 1: This is a production of Cornell University.
SPEAKER 2: At a Chat in the Stacks Book Talk at Mann Library in February 2014, Dr. Valerie Reyna discusses her new book, The Neuroscience of Risky Decision Making, which aims to help us understand the neural ruins of bad decisions and paves the way for translation of science into practice and policy.
Dr. Reyna is professor of Human Development, director of the Human Neuroscience Institute in the College of Human Ecology, and co-director of the Cornell MRI Facility. She is a developer of fuzzy-trace theory, a model of memory, decision-making, and development that is widely applied in law, medicine, and public health.
Co-edited by Reyna and Cornell Associate Professor of Psychology Vivian Zayas, The Neuroscience of Risky Decision Making will transform the next phase of research in the field and inform policy and practice innovations that can save lives and improve health.
ALAN: Thank you very much. It's really my great delight to introduce to you Valerie Reyna. And I thought I'd just give a little background on some of her accomplishments and what it's meant for the college and the university. So about five, six years ago, we had a review of the Department of Human Development in the college.
And the External Review Team saw that we had a little expertise in neuroscience. And the review committee basically said neuroscience is not something where you can dabble in. You either do it or you don't do it. And so we sort of convened our faculty group in the dean's office.
And we realized that we had just hired a few years prior to that, Valerie Reyna, who had expertise in this. And we decided to really go for it. And when I say go for it, I mean a huge investment in new faculty and in a facility that could enable the types of research that you're going to hear about today and the types of things that we can do at Cornell now.
And one of the really interesting aspects-- this would never have been possible if it wasn't for someone with Valerie's enthusiasm, with her leadership skills, and with that passion for advancing the science of blending cognitive psychology, social science, and neuroscience.
So five, six years later, we have the MRI Facility, that Valerie is a co-director with Yi Wang from Biomedical Engineering and Weill Medical College. We have the Human Neuroscience Institute, which Valerie leads. And we have, from that, hired new faculty in neuroscience-- junior faculty, senior faculty. And we're building national prominence around this.
And this is really evidence when you bring a fantastic faculty member who has a passion. Great, great things can happen. I could spend an hour talking about Valerie's accomplishments. I have a whole page here of stuff. So I'll stay in the camera there. And just a few highlights.
As I mentioned, she co-directs the MRI Facility, is the director of the Human Neuroscience Institute. But she also has played a very visible national and federal role. She advises the NSF, the NIH, the FDA, all these large-scale federal research organizations. She also is very active as an associate editor of a journal and board of-- and also, on the editorial boards of other journals.
She currently has two NIH grants. So this is all coming together beautifully. And what Valerie really, really cares about, too, is that the science doesn't just end up in journals. But she ends up in books and in outreach efforts, so that the world benefits from this research, not just that it's scientists talking to scientists.
So I do have one quote that-- when she was giving-- we were up here about two years ago where she was talking about her earlier book. And when she was interviewed for reporters, she said the following. And I really like this. I may have changed it slightly, because you were sort of live. So I may have twisted some of your words a little bit to make it more cohesive.
"We live by myths about human behavior that we all have heard for years. Too often, these myths turn out to be wrong and in many cases, very harmful. Communicating science is very important, because of the human suffering that occurs. Because we don't know what the facts are.
Through her devotion to her work and to communicating science, there are, indeed, beliefs about human behavior that we can now relegate to the myth category and focus on what is fact and what drives us in the correct direction." So, Valerie, without further ado, thank you so much for all you do for the college, the department, and the university. Valerie Reyna.
VALERIE REYNA: Thank you. Thank you. That was wonderful. Thank you. Well, thank you so much. I should quit while I'm ahead.
Thank you, Alan, for that very kind introduction and thank you all for coming. I'm going to give you a sort of sweeping overview of the book. And I'm delighted to stay after and talk to people more about it. And this is one part of a larger enterprise that I want to recognize here at Cornell, just as the dean mentioned, of folks here from the Cornell MRI Facility of various labs [INAUDIBLE].
And we're all in this together, it's a pleasure to say. All right, so this is the book. So since the copies didn't come, that's what it looks like on the front. And it can be ordered through Amazon. It's published by the American Psychological Association. I want to thank them for all the help they've given us over the last couple of years as we put this book together.
If you want to know more, if you want to read articles and so on, they are available through my website if you just go on my website. So put Reyna Publications into any search engine. You can come up with a list of publications. And we can manage to get those to you for educational purposes. All right.
So the enormity of the issue of risky choices is just staggering. If you think about, what is the main reason that people, for example, are in prison? Often it has to do with risky choices involving substance abuse, alcohol and drugs. 2/3 to 3/4, it's been estimated, of those people. What about other risky choices?
During adolescence, as was alluded to earlier, we have what's called "adolescent limited" risky decision-making. It's as though something happens to your brain. And people are willing to do things and to get into trouble sometimes at a very, very larger degree, a much higher prevalence of risk-taking and risky decision-making in adolescence.
And this contributes to a whole bunch of societal harm as well-- public health issues like HIV and STD transmissions, and so on, and so forth. To this day, it still remains that the number one reason for Latinos dropping out of high school is premature pregnancy.
In 2014, that still is a major issue. So there's a whole range of-- all kinds of risky decision-making, though. There's financial risky decision-making. Now, sometimes this risky decision-making is a good thing, right? There's upside potential and downside risk, right?
The upside potential is the good part. That's when we take a risk and you go to the moon. And it's a wonderful thing. Or maybe you decide to go to college. And that's a risky decision, depending on the background you came from, right? So risk is not all bad.
But if we look around in health, in law, in economics in terms of human productivity, in terms of human suffering, and happiness, and well-being, bad choices and risk-taking, in particular, accounts for an enormous burden of what we call mortality and morbidity.
In other words, death and suffering. But there really is hope. I'm not just saying that. There's been a lot of progress in scientific knowledge about the brain. And remember, for many centuries, we sort of, again, believed myths. We didn't really approach things scientifically.
And one of the most exciting opportunities now is that we can really look at how the brain functions with these machines while people are alive. We don't have to wait for an autopsy to see what was wrong with the human brain. We can look into the brain as people are thinking, as they're making decisions, and so on.
And we can begin to understand how people-- what makes people tick, what drives us. And risk-taking is fascinating. One reason I like it is because it taps all the different parts of the self. It's not just a narrow little area, right? And power to you if you're a scientist that wants to focus on one narrow little area. There's nothing wrong with that.
But I like a challenge. I like a lot of diversity of interests. This touches on people's emotions, their motivations, their social-- their cultural background, their biological and physiological characteristics. It's all brought together with risk-taking. But that doesn't mean we can't understand it if we apply theory and we really think systematically.
And remember, it's a community of scholars, not any one of us that's going to solve these problems. It's all of us together, pulling together who are going to make a difference. So there is hope that we can understand the brain. And we're already understanding the brain in remarkable ways. I'm going to talk to you really about cutting-edge things.
So none of this is written in stone. 10 years from now, some of these conclusions will definitely have been amended, but just to give you kind of an immediate kind of taste. So I just talked about a lot of different kinds of decision-making-- financial, sexual risk-taking, drugs, all kinds of things. And you might say to yourself, well, gee, what do they have in common?
They're so different from one another. And yet, we had evidence of the level of the brain. And again, this is just a taste that says if you talk about rewards for money-making, risky decision-making in the laboratory for money, for food, for water if you're thirsty, these have a kind of common denominator or common currency.
Certain common areas of the brain light up for any reward and for any risk. Then, of course, there are areas of the brain that are not in common. And as you can see here, there's food specific areas, right? And this is the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, which is an area that's been identified with subjective utility or expected utility, overall value of a choice.
Its probability times its outcome. And the striatum is part of what's called the reward circuit. And the reward circuit has been studied in animals as well as in humans. And as you can see, there's areas of both of these that are specific to food. It's specific to money. But then there are these little green areas that cut across domains.
So people, for example, who are more willing to take certain kinds of risks, like drive a motorcycle fast without a helmet, are also more likely to take other kinds of risk. It's not perfect correlation. But there is a common denominator of risk-taking across people. So here is a very busy slide. I don't expect you to read it. It's just to give you a sense of the chapters in the book.
So the book is divided up into three sections. Neuroeconomics, which is a new area. But economics is a foundational area for risky decision-making. Those are the folks that talk about the axioms of rationality and all of this wonderful, beautiful formal theory. And we talk about that.
And we do-- myself and also a former president of the Society for Neuroeconomics does a overview of that literature in that section. And also, we have Irwin Levin who is a former president of the Society for Judgment and Decision Making, and his wonderful colleagues. And they talk about what's called framing effects. And we'll talk about that a little bit more.
But basically, some of these relatively new psychological phenomena challenge the basic axioms of economic theory. So neuroeconomics is the foundation. Then we have a section on neurodevelopment. And neurodevelopment-- we have a section on children. We have a chapter on adolescence.
And we have a chapter on old age, so from childhood to old age, looking at how risky decision-making changes across the lifespan. And our insights into these developmental changes really inform our theories of how people make decisions. There's some surprising paradoxes.
For example, it looks like adolescents in some circumstances are actually being "more logical" than adults, and that they make decisions to take risks in a very kind of computational, computer-like way, if you will. So that's surprising. And that challenges some basic theories. And then in the next section, we have some of the leading people who have worked in that area.
I'm really, really happy with the authors I managed to attract to this volume. Then finally, in neuropsychology, we talk about things like delay of gratification, the marshmallow test, you probably have heard about. And also, we have a chapter by Wood and Bechara. And Bechara is the one-- who was one of the inventors of the Iowa Gambling Task.
So this is a task that people have used to study people with brain damage. And also, it's been extended to study addiction and all kinds of other domains. So I'm really, really happy with the kind of scope of this. In one volume, you really have a range of current theory as well as its experimental evidence and empirical evidence.
So the book synthesizes the research for the first time in one volume. I was sort of surprised this hadn't been done, that somebody had already not done a book called The Neuroscience of Risky Decision Making. It integrates these areas in interdisciplinary ways.
And it introduces some new models and ways to integrate these ideas. And we tried to make it accessible, but you'll tell me when you read it. Now, we were fortunate enough to get Colin Camerer, who's a neuroeconomist, to write a forward for the book. And these are the very nice things he said about the book.
And about a few days after he turned in his forward for this book, the MacArthur Foundation recognized him with one of those "genius" awards, right? And as you can tell, he clearly is a genius, because he liked the book. Well, maybe we can make an exception for him on this. But he really is a genius. So what are some of the examples of new ideas in neuroscience?
If you think about risky decision-making, many people just assume that people who take risks that might put them-- that they might die from, we can think of some-- a lot of salient examples recently in the media that are very distressing of people that took risks. And you wonder, why would they do that? Why would they do that?
And people have members of their family who also do these sorts of things. And so you think, well, maybe people just don't perceive that it's risky. But often, they do perceive that it's risky. And they do the behavior anyway. Or some people will argue, well, we don't-- the person who's taking that risk is just not calculating the risk correctly.
They're not combining risk correctly. They're not weighing them and trading off. And that does not seem to be the case. So the latest research suggests those are not, for the most part, sources of risk-taking, despite having been touted for many years by clinical folks and others.
Another point that is made in this book and as a result of multiple sources of evidence from the memory literature and the decision-making literature. And that is people who make decisions really don't think about those decisions the way a computer would.
They think about them in simplified gist representations. And we now begin-- are beginning to know that there are certain areas of the brain-- posterior parietal cortex and other areas of the brain-- that people haven't talked about very much, although that's a fairly advanced-- in terms of evolutionarily advanced area of the brain.
People mostly talk about prefrontal cortex and amygdala, striatum. And I'm going to talk a little bit about those. But there's new areas of the brain that we think are represented in mental representations. These are areas that have been extended from more simpler days when they covered quantity in animals and spatial reasoning.
And now, we've extended the use of some of these areas to capture our mental representations of reality. And it's the representation of reality that drives behavior. It's not the objective reality, right? If it were just objective reality, life would be simple. There really wouldn't be much work for people like me.
But it's really the psychology of it, how the brain represents reality. That's how we make our choices. How we see our options matters almost more than the options themselves, objectively. Another thing that's new here is a lot of people have talked about dual processing.
There's two parts of the brain or two parts of people's personality. There's the cognitive, computational, deliberative part. Then there's the emotional kinds-- part of the brain, and that these war with each other for control of our behavior. But there's more than that.
There's at least another system, probably more than another system. And that involves-- and Bechara talks about it here-- cravings, and phenomenology, and feelings that then modulate how susceptible we are to rewards and how much we deliberate, so that the brain is not any-- it's not one area that then does a behavior.
This all works in concert in terms of networks. And that's another surprising kind of finding here, that we can look at how networks-- the brain-- when brain activates together and how that's related to ongoing behavior. So why don't I get to that? So imagine you had ground beef, and it was described to you as 75% lean.
How much would you pay for that ground beef? What if the identical package of ground beef-- see, I just copied, pasted, and read. That's all I did. That's all I can do. I'm not very artistic. And it was described as 25% fat. Which would you pay more for? In study after study, obviously, it's been shown that when you describe it as lean, people are willing to pay more.
And this has been done in real stores where they label things. And they see what people actually buy with their own actual money, so not just in the laboratory. So this kind of basic lack of consistency strikes at the heart of some of these axioms of economic decision-making.
This is human psychology, right? The fact that the very same thing labeled two different ways is experienced differently. And in this chapter by Levin and so on, they talk about circadian rhythm's influence on these kinds of decision-makings. They talk about aging.
They talk about a whole range of things. Basically, though, if you tell people, think about this decision in a detached and logical way, this effect goes away. So this has something to do with attracting the emotions. When we say 75% lean, we feel much more positively associated to this product than if we describe it objectively, identically as 25% fat.
Now, what about thinking about the way we all might make decisions? So imagine yourself. Now, I'm showing these screens, because that's what we do. And that's what this Venkataraman et al. did in the magnet. So they showed people their list of options.
And then they showed them two different choices they could make. And this is finally, really-- this last slide is the only one you really need to think about. Imagine that you had-- there are five outcomes at different probabilities. So there's a 25% chance of winning $80, 15% chance of winning $40, 20% chance of 0, and so on.
Suppose I gave you $20 and I said you could put it either here, so that you would turn that zero outcome into $20 win. Or you could put it here on losing $75. So now, you'd only lose $55. Where would you choose to put your $20? What would be better?
So in this way, by looking at people's choices, we can diagnose what's in their head, how they're thinking, and how they represent their options. And of course, there are-- so think about it. Do you want to eliminate the worst outcome? Do you want to eliminate the zero outcome with your $20? Think about what you'd like to do.
And I'm going to tell you-- show you some parts of the brain. Well, one strategy you can talk about is to minimize your losses. That would be if you took your $20 and you put it on that worst loss, that worst outcome. So if you're security minded or driven by fear as opposed to hope-- and many of us are.
I'm risk averse in my portfolio. So if you're that way, then the part of the brain that was activated the most for people who made those choices was the anterior insula and the ventromedial prefrontal cortex. Now, the insula is part of this brain that is involved in these-- what we call phenomenology, the experience of feelings.
So the insula gets excited when we have uncertainty, which we-- you know how the markets don't like uncertainty? Your insula doesn't like uncertainty either, all right? So that part of the brain-- well, it activates more for the people that make that kind of choice where they minimize their losses.
What about for people who maximize their gains? What about winning, and potential, and upside, and I'm going to make money? For those people, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and also, the ventromedial prefrontal cortex activates the most, right?
And then for people who show an interesting kind of strategy. How many of you decided that you would put the money to eliminate the zero outcome to where you would get nothing? OK. Most people actually choose that in those two choices. And that's called the P max strategy.
Because it maximizes the probability of getting something as opposed to nothing, right? So if you do that, the part of your brain that activates is this posterior parietal cortex. And that's a part of the brain that-- we think it might be implicated in this all-or-none type, gist thinking. And here's some independent evidence for it.
So as you can see, you can isolate strategies based on people's choices and then look into the brain to see. If we think in a certain way, can we find out which parts of the brain are more active than others? And as you can see, it begins to be a detective game to try to figure out what motivates people and how the brain works at the same time. All right.
So what about-- this is a lab decision, right? So they're making these choices in the lab. What has that got to do with real life? Well, there's been lots of studies showing that the kinds of hypothetical decisions that you just made, that we just talked about, do, in fact, extrapolate to real life.
And this is just an example. This is a picture of one of my former students-- Steven Estrada. And he's talking to a little kid that we ran here at Cornell. And in fact, we've studied these kinds of risky decisions in children as young as preschool, all the way up through adulthood.
And in fact, these hypothetical decisions in the lab do, indeed, predict what people do in the real world. That's been shown over and over again. Now, you'd think, perhaps, how could that be so? But people will tell you what they prefer. And at least in the area of risky preference, that seems to be a fairly stable individual difference.
All right. So don't worry too much about these slides. They're more reminders for me. But now, I'm going to switch to talking about real life risk-taking, but not just one area of the brain, like the insula, or the striatum, or something like that, but whole networks.
So there's this wonderful paper by Shannon et al., which I really love, in which he looked at, what areas of the brain-- and I think I'm just going to go to the first picture. There are certain areas of the brain that tend to activate together when you're at rest. If you're just not thinking about anything at all, certain brains-- parts of your brain kind of synchronize at the same time.
And what Shannon et al. did, is they said, when we look at that synchronizing activation of the brain, the resting state, activation, does it correlate with the scores for incarcerated youth on a measure of impulsivity? So we know that a lot of people get into trouble because they're impulsive, right?
And if you look at the prison population and the adolescent population, a lot of impulsive behavior. I just wasn't thinking. And they do crazy things. So they end up in trouble. So based on this scale, is there parts of the brain that just co-activate in some correlative way-- correlate with the amount of impulsivity you have?
And the answer is yes. So they combed the brain. And they were-- this massive, multivariate technique. It's even more advanced than multi-voxel pattern analysis. It's even more advanced than that, which is like a big way to understand systems in the brain.
Yes, there's a certain kind of pattern of activation that correlates with impulsivity. It has to do with the connection between the premotor area and certain other areas of the brain, certain systems of the brain. Now, why is the premotor area kind of interesting here?
Well, that's your springboard to action. So if you're impulsive, then you take these impulsive actions. You know those little buttons like in the checkout line at Rite Aid, or CVS, or whatever, where it says Push Me? And what do little kids do? They've got to push, right? They've got to push that button.
And you're like, don't push that. Don't push it. Don't push it. Right? But they've got to push it, because they're young. And they're impulsive. And it wants you to push it. So they can't withhold that. And that's the kind of impulsive. So it makes sense that this premotor, pre-action area is correlated with impulsivity.
But this is only the beginning. If we look at these incarcerated youth, we can see over here. And I would just look at the graphs. Here's our impulsivity score. So you're getting to be more and more impulsive as you go from left to right. Here is your activation and how that correlates with a network of the brain called the default network.
So as you get to be more and more impulsive, this default network is more and more activated in synchrony with the premotor area. Now, what that means is that's an area of the brain that has to do with mind wandering, and daydreaming, and being very interior focused, memory, so as opposed to where it's anti-correlated.
It's negatively correlated. The same impulsivity score is negatively correlated with a whole other system in the brain in incarcerated youth. And that is this attention and cognitive control area. So as you get to be-- now, think about it, right? So the more impulsive you are-- the less impulsive you are, the more you're connected to attention, cognitively controlled, self-controlled actions.
And the more impulsive you become, the less and less correlated with this attention network and the more and more correlated you are with your inner life, right? So you can begin to see why people's behavior would be the way it is. Now, remember, a minute ago, I said, what about children?
Little children are impulsive, right? So what about the connection between this premotor area and impulsivity in children? Well, it's exactly what you would expect. What these [AUDIO OUT] researchers showed was as you were younger in age-- now, notice you're getting more-- you're getting less impulsive.
Because you're going from younger to older here. So the direction is reversed, but the effect is the same, right? Because younger kids are more impulsive, right? So you get-- the more impulsive you are, the more connected you are to this default mode, this mind wandering, inner dialogue kind of thing.
And the younger you are, the less you're connected to the attention and self-control network. But as you get older, see, there's improvement. There's a lot of variation, right? But there's net improvement. So as you get older, your actions become connected to attention and control more and more and more, right? Less impulsive and more controlled.
So you can begin to see how what-- when we say younger people should be treated differently in the legal system because their brains are different, it's not just that they-- the pruning and all that. The way they use their mind is differently-- in order to control their behaviors. It is a question of degree.
And it's a very interesting issue. Because the slide I showed you before was incarcerated youth. What happens when you become an incarcerated adult if your brain looks like this, like the younger people? What do you do with people like that?
And those are the things that myself and other colleagues are working on right now as part of a MacArthur group on a group to individual differences. And someday, we're talking about neuroprediction where we can look at the brain, and characterize people, and begin to predict who is more likely to be at risk of making these choices and not. And that's a very powerful thing.
It's something we have to be very careful about how we use. It will probably not be perfect, at least for many, many years. It will never-- it will be far from perfect. But it will be knowledge that we will have. And it will begin with things like this, where we can look inside, again, the brains of incarcerated youth and distinguish them based on their impulsivity.
All right. So what about that marshmallow task? So there's another form of impulsivity. This really-- impulsivity has many faces. There's risk preference. There's ability to wait and delay gratification for rewards. And then there's that behavioral inhibition, that controlling your actions. And I talked about that in the last slide.
So here, you have delay of gratification now. How many people have seen this on YouTube? Raise your hand if you've seen this. OK, so you know what I mean. And if you haven't seen it on YouTube, you've got to see it. So the little kids-- they're like four years old. They have a choice between they can have the one marshmallow right now.
Or if they wait, they can have two marshmallows. This is sort of a metaphor for life. It really is. And it is correlated with a lot of things, right? So it's correlated with grades and economic success not perfectly. There's hope. Don't worry. You can always join the SWAT team.
So the idea is that if you can delay this gratification and wait for more, then you're what's called a high delayer. And you have better lifetime outcomes. And people have now-- and in this book, we have this wonderful 40-year follow-up by the people who basically invented this task-- Walter Mischel and Vivian Zayas who is here at Cornell has been-- written on it extensively.
So it's following these people up from the time they were 4, 40 years later to when they were 44, and looking at their brains. Cool, huh? It's very cool. So what do they look like many, many years later? Well, we have what's called a cool task and a hot task.
All that means is that the hot task is you're not supposed to say yes to a smiling face. You're supposed to not push your button. So every time you see a face, you're supposed to hit Yes, but not to the smiling faces, to the neutral faces. So you hit Yes, Yes, Yes.
And then you're supposed to withhold. Oh, that's a smiling face, not supposed to-- it's sort of like Simon Says. Does everyone know Simon Says? Simon Says to raise your hand. Simon Says to point to the left. Simon Says to do this and then do this. And then the kids will all do this without Simon saying.
You're supposed to withhold. So that's what's called a no-go trial. You're supposed to withhold the behavior that you've sort of been geared up to do, right? So if you have a smiling face that you're not supposed to hit the button to, people who are low delayers, the ones that couldn't wait for the second marshmallow-- those people.
They can't withhold. They false alarm. They jump and want to approach that happy, friendly face. They can't inhibit that, right? When it's just neutral like vowels, like, say, push a button when you see a vowel, don't push a button when you see a consonant, something like that, low delayers, high delayers are about the same.
They can both control themselves pretty well. But when you make it something motivational, friendly, social-- you know how peers get kids into trouble? Anyway, that smiling face cannot be resisted as well by the people who are low delayers. And in fact, they looked at them in the scanner.
And then it's an interesting question, of course. What parts of the brain is this related to? This ability to withhold on a no-go trial. Simon didn't say. And you can control yourself, control yourself behaviorally. It turns out that that correlates with activation in a part of the prefrontal cortex called the inferior frontal gyrus.
So the degree to which you are able to withhold that response is correlated with greater and greater activation of this inferior frontal gyrus. Now, for low delayers, unfortunately, there is no correlation here. Because supposedly they're not bringing this inferior frontal gyrus online to suppress behavior.
So you don't see this differential activation for go and no-go. You see this for high delayers-- this pattern here. I know you've been paying attention. So you probably know. What part of the brain is activated more in these trials for the low delayers?
Some part of the reward circuit, probably the ventral striatum. Anyone? Award area, so that, unfortunately for the low delayers, their reward circuitry is activated more on the no-go trials that have the happy, friendly face on them. So they're responding to the social reward more.
And the high delayers are responding more to controlling themselves and withholding that response. So there's also, again, lots and lots of data on adolescents. This is just a taste of it. So what this chapter in the book talks about is over-recruitment of this reward area, the ventral striatum when adolescents receive rewards.
So over-recruitment means that they activate the reward area more when receiving the reinforcement, when receiving the reward compared to adults. There's also elevated ventral striatum activity-- reward center-- when adolescents are in this simulated driving task.
This is kind of cool. You put them in the lab and you have them drive. Vroom, vroom, right? And you can speed up and go through yellow lights. And sometimes you make it. And sometimes you crash, right? So this is the number of crashes. This is a behavioral measure.
And as you can see, when adolescents are with peers, meaning that there's other teenagers around, their tendency to take risks is significantly increased, right? And it doesn't differ so much for young adults and for adults, right? So when you have your peers around-- this is why we have laws, for example, that limit the number of kids that can be in the car when a younger driver is driving.
There's actually a scientific basis for that. And these are simulations in the lab. But again, they do tend to predict real life behavior. Well, it turns out that in this situation with the peers, you have elevated ventral striatum activity when your peers are present and you're taking these risky choices.
So there's some kind of social reward, is what that seems to imply, involve. And you can observe this at the level of the brain. Greater ventral striatum activity when those peers are present and you're taking more risky choices than when you don't. And then finally, there's some-- there's a new area, just barely born area that's looking at hormonal effects.
And it's not a simple story. But some of the preliminary data show that for men and women. If you look at the levels of testosterone among adolescents, those who are more risk-taking have a little bit more testosterone. There's weak correlations, but they're there.
And they respond more, again, to-- the ventral striatum responds more to reward those with higher testosterone. So people are just beginning to look at that. And these European labs are big into that. And that's talked about in the book. Now, Beatriz Luna and her colleagues-- Beatriz Luna has done some of the most interesting, exciting, pioneer work in this area.
Again, I was so glad to get a chapter from her. And she has this really cool task called the antisaccade task. A saccade is where if I were to flash something up like this, your eyes immediately go to it, right? So now, what you have to do in this task is here's a flash.
You have to look at the opposite direction. So yeah, I know it's really hard. It's like walk and chew gum at the same time. It's really-- it's hard. So if I did this, you have to look over here. So I do this. You have to look over there. Now, see how hard that is? Right?
So when we do this in a lab-- and we reward you if you get it right. You get money if you get it right. And we study it developmentally. And although adults recruit the ventral striatum-- remember, you're getting paid to get this right, right? So you have a prepotent response.
You want to look at the flash. You want to look at the object that suddenly appears, but you have to inhibit that and look somewhere else, right? So you recruit the ventral striatum earlier in adults. But adolescents show a higher ventral striatum at the response stage, right? And they do as well as adults when they're incentivized, when they're rewarded.
But there's this huge effort that you can see in the brain. They're really bringing the inhibition to bear. And they're really grinding out that self-control. It's hard. And you can actually see this in a kind of-- so they're saying, I'm going to get rewarded. I'm getting get rewarded. I got to control this, right?
And you see more effort and more response to reward in the brain of the adolescents. They're achieving it behaviorally. So if you only had their behavior, you'd say, gee, when you give them a reward, they look exactly like adults. But inside their skull, there's a lot more going on that has to do with incentivizing, motivating them by the reward.
They're more motivated by the reward and to try to get that executive functioning gear, which is harder and more effortful. That's what's happening in here. It's more sluggish. So that's kind of cool. So what about old age? Now, we have an aging population, more and more older people.
This is all over the world. This is not just a United States phenomenon, although it's obviously true here. And what happens? Well, it turns out that there's been a lot of studies about risk preference in older people. And we're very concerned. Because older people make a lot of very important decisions-- medical decisions, whether to leave your home.
They get involved. And they're more likely to be scammed, for example-- people who are older. And you wonder, how could that be? And this is not necessarily in people who have any outward signs of dementia or anything like that. So they're really-- they're victimized at a much higher rate. And people don't really know why that's the case.
But if you look at basic risky decision-making, that does not seem to differ so much. What apparently differs-- and this chapter summarizes it-- is the ability to learn from consequences and to remember across events. Uh-oh, that was bad five times, that thing that happened. That investment I had-- it's not paying off.
And to sort of accumulate those outcomes and realize that's a risky choice. I want to avoid that. So it's that ability. And this has to do with preserving this dorsal striatal function. Primarily, that has to do with not just rewards. So it's part of a striatum system.
But it's the part of the striatal system that has to do with remembering what got reinforced and what got punished, keeping track of that, and connecting it to the behavior, going back to the frontal lobe. So that disconnection, that deterioration of some of these pathways seems to impair the ability to learn from outcomes or to make risky decisions in a laboratory.
And it's related to real life. And these folks have done some incredible work on it. So with age, we gain experience. We gain-- vocabulary continues to go up. Fluid intelligence does not go up. It goes-- it tends to go down. We have an increased ability to regulate our emotions to be-- to have what's called a positivity bias.
So, yes, young people learn from older people. It's not all that bad. And you can work with your own mind to see the world in a more positive way and to regulate your emotions. So it's not all bad. So I wanted to mention that in the context of reliance on outcomes. And we rely more on gist memory.
And this is consistent with, as I mentioned before, fuzzy-trace theory, which is a theory that my colleagues and I work on here at Cornell. So gist memory has all kinds of advantages. Remember we mentioned the posterior parietal cortex and avoiding getting-- winning nothing?
Those kinds of strategies which turn out to be, in public health contexts and other kinds of high-risk contexts, a good thing. If you're focusing on, how much more of the Gmax strategy? How much more can I gain? There's a big reward out there. It usually comes often with a big risk. So you can avoid that and do very well, indeed, by following some of these other strategies.
And these all are things you increase with age. We used to call this, I think, wisdom. But anyways-- but on the other hand, there are cognitive functions that do decline, like verbatim memory and, in fact, executive control as a result of this frontal striatal kind of impairment and other kinds of physical and physiological change that occur with age in the brain.
But one of the things that I think is really cool about the aging brain is how remarkably robust it is to all kinds of damage and issues. Now, not completely robust. We have a lot of discussion nowadays about football players and so on. So it's not that you can do anything to your brain and there's no consequence.
But you can have a remarkable amount of damage and physiological impairment, actually physically in your brain and yet, be very functional. Because the brain is designed in such a way to compensate for that, to fill in the dots that are missing. And that's part of actually where we think gist comes in, the ability to operate essentially with partial information about the world and yet, to be very robust.
Because we're kind of mainly glossing over the big contours in our mind. So that's another area that I'm very interested in terms of the brain. So finally, Wood and Bechara bring it all together. They have a massive model. This is the triple systems model.
And they talk about, yes, you have your dual selves-- your tempted self and your logical self. Yourself that knows it's not good to eat that and yourself that, in fact, goes and buys it, right? So that's happening in the same mind, right? And there's this third system that has to do with urges and cravings.
And that's separate than those other-- than the emotion. And this seems to be brought on line more with stress or deprivation. Like if you're hungry, you respond differently. You say you're willing to do things in laboratory tests that you would say, I'd never do that, if you weren't hungry.
So when we put you at a drive state, your mind works a little differently than it does if you're not in a drive state. And . Bechara, and Wood, and others have talked a lot about addiction and how addiction is an imbalance in these systems in the brain.
And then I can talk more about that with the Iowa Gambling Task. So you have your amygdala/striatal system, which is-- responds to like emotion inducers like, there's a snake. Your amygdala/striatal system, right away, will go, ah! Right? And that will activate.
It also gets-- it gets input also from the ventromedial PFC. So there's crosstalk back and forth between these areas. And not just one area responds, and then that's it. It's modulated by the ventromedial prefrontal cortex. Secondary inducers are-- and this is very important.
I love that Bechara sort of brings it all together-- and Wood. And secondary inducers are things that you remember. So things that you grow up with in your childhood that are associated with negative emotion-- you will invoke again. And it's the memory of it, not the presence of the snake right here.
It's the memory of these things that also influence our behavior. And that's modulated through the vmPFC. And then insula. Remember I mentioned that has to do with cravings, the pangs of uncertainty due to risk that you feel? So you don't take a risk, because you feel that uncertainty.
It makes you uncomfortable. Some people have more and less of that, right? There have been some wonderful results that have shown that people who, for reasons of surgery or some other problem with the brain, they end up with damage to the insula.
They lose cravings for certain things they've been addicted to. They go to sleep before the surgery to remove this part of the brain, say, because they have a tumor. They go to sleep a smoker. They wake up with no cravings to smoke. They're eight times more likely to quit smoking than patients who have other parts of the brain that have to be removed or a lesion.
So this is really kind of fascinating. And it obviously is directly relevant to risky decision-making or risky choices. So that's says sort of a simplistic model. But still, we can get the idea here. So the idea is that if you have a kind of disturbance to your homeostasis-- stress, or hunger, or something-- your insula activates.
It kind of sends signals to the amygdala and the ventromedial prefrontal cortex. It makes your amygdala look for those rewards to satisfy those drives, right? And then your deliberative, calculating, subjective, risk probability multiplier, the ventromedial prefrontal cortex-- that gets down regulated a little bit.
So you're in much more of a seeking rewards mode. And these things obviously interact to produce behavior. A highly simplistic model, but nevertheless, kind of exciting. So what about the insula? In the last couple slides, I'm going to talk to you a little bit about the insula.
And we're going to talk about individuals and individual differences. We've just talked about the insula in terms of cravings, and pangs, and twinges, and all those feelings you get that drive your behavior. Well, we looked at, for example, sensation seeking.
And these dots here are people. These are 32 adult individuals. And you can see there's some variation. But the activation of that insula is fairly, strongly related to their sensation seeking score. So as their willingness, their desire to seek sensations, stimulation, which also tends to be correlated with risk-taking, goes up, the insula activation goes up.
And this is for a particular contrast that we've studied in our lab called no framing versus frame, which just means the seeking of higher rewards. So if you pick the lower reward and the lower loss in the loss frame and the higher win in a game frame, that pattern is the contrast we're focusing on here.
And we've identified that in previous brain work of our own, based on fuzzy-trace theory. That pattern of choices that adolescents are more likely to show and adults are less likely to show is correlated with risk-taking. So as you can see, then this is pretty cool.
This is activation in the brain that is correlating with sensation seeking and activation in the insula, which is pretty cool. All right. So that's 32 individuals. Each person here is represented by a circle. So that's-- we're looking at individual differences and sensations in being reflected in actual activation in the brain.
And here's our new Cornell MRI-- had to get a plug in for that. And in fact, we used-- and this is our research dedicated MRI. And we have, by the way, our Director [INAUDIBLE] right in the audience over there and Emily Qualls. So if anybody wants to think about maybe using this in their research, we want to encourage you, all right?
And here is just a drawdown. Now, we talked about group level, that big group model. And then we talked about the 32 individuals. And now, we're talking about one person. And this scan was obtained in our magnet at Cornell. And I just wanted you to see.
And this is not statistically reliable at a high level. But it does show you how much of the brain is involved in making these risky decision-making. In this case, we're looking at people making the standard kind of choice, where they do risk avoidance for gains and risk seeking for losses.
This is your sort of normal adult pattern. And this is an adult. And as you can see, you can see a lot of our friends are activated-- some parts of the brain that we've talked about. And this is a single person's brain showing activation, which is amazing, that we can see inside a single person's brain as they make these multiple decisions.
And there's consistent patterns of activation. Here's our friend, the insula, the left inferior frontal gyrus we talked about. So you're resisting that higher reward. And you're going for that lower, but still adequate reward. But we can see that part of the brain that was activated.
And the marshmallow task is activated here, although it's left. You can see frontal parts of the brain, like the prefrontal cortex, Brodmann's area 10, which is way at the front, which is a very advanced part of the brain that's activated here, and so on, all the way around the brain.
And here's our superior parietal. We talked about posterior parietal cortex being activated for these kinds of gist-based decisions. And indeed, that part of the brain is shown as activated here. So I wanted you to have an opportunity to-- with our tool-- with the tool that we have right on this campus today, be able to see inside the brain of a single person.
So my favorite part of the talk where I thank my students. I want to thank, in particular, my post-doctoral fellow, Becky Weldon and also, Chrissy Chick who's the leader of our brain team, our neuroscience team, who helped me with this presentation a bit, too.
So I want to thank them publicly for their leadership of our wonderful team that I'm most proud of. Also, the rest of our leadership team. Deanna Blansky is our undergraduate team leader for our brain group. And up until recently, Jeremy Ojalehto was also an undergraduate team leader. And also, this is the rest of our general leadership team. And he's doing pretty good in our lab, too.
We're going to make him lab leader next semester, right? OK. Anyway, so thank you to my wonderful team and also, to the rest of the lab who-- many of whom-- thank you for coming here. You're the wind beneath my wings. You really are. And we do all this together. And it's exciting to work with you and very gratifying.
And of course, the more formal thank yous to John Eckenrode of the Bronfenbrenner Center, who originally supported a conference that brought all these speakers into Cornell. And that's where the idea for this book was born. So we thank him for his support and Urie Bronfenbrenner's continued inspiration.
He's a hero to many of us here at Cornell. Carrie Chalmers, who was just incredibly helpful with every aspect of the book and the conference. The Institute for the Social Sciences, which has got together a bunch of us in an interdisciplinary group at the Behavioral Economics Decision Research group. The Human Neuroscience Institute. Karene Booker.
My wonderful assistant, Tom Craig. The NIH for giving us the first neuro-imaging grant to our group here at Cornell, which we're very excited about. They're believing in us and an inspiring interdisciplinary team, my lab, and of course, last but not least, my co-editor who's on sabbatical at the moment-- Vivian Zayas. Thank you so much.
SPEAKER 1: This has been a production of Cornell University on the web at cornell.edu.
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Whether or not to have unprotected sex, save money or spend it, consent to surgery, take that extra dessert--risky decisions permeate our lives, sometimes with disastrous consequences. How and why risk taking occurs has important implications, yet we have many unanswered questions about what influences risky behavior.
In a Chats in the Stacks book talk February 10, 2014 at Mann Library, Dr. Valerie Reyna discusses her new book, The Neuroscience of Risky Decision Making, which aims to help us understand the neural roots of bad decisions and paves the way for translation of science into practice and policy.
Reyna is professor of human development, director of the Human Neuroscience Institute in the College of Human Ecology and co-director of the Cornell MRI Facility. She is a developer of fuzzy trace theory, a model of memory, decision making, and development that is widely applied in law, medicine, and public health.