■ Have you ever been on the verge of gambling more than you’re prepared to lose, and just before you place your bet something deep inside you makes you stop?
__According to the Whittier Daily News, a team of neuroscientists headed by Dr. Colin Camerer, professor of behavioral economics at the California Institute of Technology (CalTech) in Pasadena, California, believe they’ve pinpointed the part of the brain responsible for expressing the fear of losing money.
__That point is within the amygdala, the almond-shaped mass located deep inside each cerebral hemisphere.
__To prove their thesis, researches gave participants $50 that they could either keep or gamble. Subjects were given several gambling choices that came with a 50-50 chance of winning. Most participants chose to gamble when given the potential to gain four times what they were investing, but they would reject opportunities to double their money. Most subjects would not even risk $15 for the chance to win $20.
__However, there were two participants in the experiment who had damaged amygdalae, and their approaches to gambling varied greatly from the rest of the group who had healthy amygdalae: The participants with damaged amygdalae would gamble more money than they could win! One subject, with the initial S.M., would risk $12 to win $10. According to Dr. Camerer, these results connect an aversion to monetary loss with an aversion to fear.
__As the rest of S.M.’s brain is healthy, researchers have used S.M. in other experiments to study the amygdala. For example, when S.M. was shown pictures of people expressing emotions, she recognizes almost every emotion except for fear.
__“The amygdala is like this warning dog that goes off when someone gets too close to you, but [S.M.’s] doesn’t go off,” says Dr. Camerer. He notes, however, that the amygdala doesn’t always have the final say in the matter of gambling. In a casino setting, alcohol and social pressures may trump the gambler’s fear of loss and keep them playing longer. [bw]