A gene–brain–behavior basis for familiarity bias in source preference

Robin Chark, Songfa Zhong, Shui Ying Tsang, Chiea Chuen Khor, Richard P. Ebstein, Hong Xue, Soo Hong Chew

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Source preference in which equally distributed risks may be valued differently has been receiving increasing attention. Using subjects recruited in Berkeley, Fox and Tversky (1995) demonstrate a familiarity bias in source preference—betting on a less than even-chance event based on San Francisco temperature is valued more than betting on a better than even-chance event based on Istanbul temperature. Neophobia is associated with the amygdala which is GABA-rich and is known to be modulated by benzodiazepines as anxiolytic agents that enhance the activity of the GABAA receptor in processing anxiety and fear. This leads to our hypothesis that familiarity bias in decision making may be explained by polymorphic variations in this receptor mediated by anxiety regulation in the amygdala. In two companion studies involving Beijing-based subjects, we examine 10 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) of GABRB2 (coding for GABAA receptor, beta 2 subunit) and find 7 SNPs each showing negative association between familiarity bias—preference for betting on parity of Beijing temperature over Tokyo temperature—and having at least one minor allele (less than 50% prevalence). In an imaging genetics study of a subsample of subjects based on the SNP with the most balanced allelic distribution, we find that subjects’ familiarity bias in terms of risk aversion towards bets on the parity of the temperature of 20 Chinese cities is negatively associated with their post-scanning familiarity ratings of the cities only for those with no minor allele in this SNP. Moreover, familiarity bias is positively associated with activation in the right amygdala along with the brain’s attention networks. Overall, our findings help discriminate between ambiguity aversion and familiarity bias in source preference and supports our gene–brain–behavior hypothesis of GABAergic modulation of amygdala activation in response to familiarity towards the source of uncertainty.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)531-567
Number of pages37
JournalTheory and Decision
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - Apr 2022


  • Ambiguity aversion
  • Amygdala
  • Attention networks
  • Decision making
  • Familiarity bias
  • GABA
  • Genetics
  • Neuroimaging

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Decision Sciences
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • General Economics, Econometrics and Finance
  • Applied Psychology
  • Computer Science Applications
  • General Social Sciences


Dive into the research topics of 'A gene–brain–behavior basis for familiarity bias in source preference'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this