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Brain Structure a Biomarker for Financial Risk Tolerance

Our brain structure influences our tolerance of risk, according to a study that identifies a stable biomarker for financial risk attitudes.

The study, which was published in The Journal of Neuroscience, took MRI brain scans of participants as they made a series of choices between monetary lotteries that varied in their degree of risk.

Analysis of the scans found that the grey matter volume of a region in the right posterior parietal cortex was significantly predictive of individual risk attitudes. Men and women with higher grey matter volume in this region exhibited less risk aversion.

Study co-author Dr Agnieszka Tymula of The University of Sydney’s School of Economics says that tolerance of risk “could potentially be measured in billions of existing medical brain scans”.

However, she has cautioned against making a causal link between brain structure and behaviour. More research will be needed to establish whether structural changes in the brain lead to changes in risk attitude or whether that individual’s risky choices alter his or her brain structure – or both.

“The findings fit nicely with our previous findings on risk attitude and ageing,” Tymula says. In a 2013 paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences “we found that as people age they become more risk-averse.

“From other work we know that the cortex thins substantially as we age. It is possible that changes in risk attitude over lifespan are caused by thinning of the cortex.”