Abstract

This study investigated the neural correlates of the so-called “affect heuristic,” which refers to the phenomenon whereby individuals tend to rely on affective states rather than rational deliberation of utility and probabilities during judgments of risk and utility of a given event or scenario. The study sought to explore whether there are shared regional activations during both judgments of relative risk and relative benefit of various scenarios, thus being a potential candidate of the affect heuristic. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, we developed a novel risk perception task, based on a preexisting behavioral task assessing the affect heuristic. A whole-brain voxel-wise analysis of a sample of participants (n = 42) during the risk and benefit conditions revealed overlapping clusters in the left insula, left inferior frontal gyrus, and left medial frontal gyrus across conditions. Extraction of parameter estimates of these clusters revealed that activity of these regions during both tasks was inversely correlated with a behavioral measure assessing the inclination to use the affect heuristic. More activity in these areas during risk judgments reflect individuals' ability to disregard momentary affective impulses. The insula may be involved in integrating viscero-somatosensory information and forming a representation of the current emotional state of the body, whereas activity in the left inferior frontal gyrus and medial frontal gyrus indicates that executive processes may be involved in inhibiting the impulse of making judgments in favor of deliberate risk evaluations.

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