Measuring the subjective value of risky and ambiguous options using experimental economics and functional MRI methods

Ifat Levy, Lior Rosenberg Belmaker, Kirk Manson, Agnieszka Tymula, Paul W. Glimcher

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Most of the choices we make have uncertain consequences. In some cases the probabilities for different possible outcomes are precisely known, a condition termed "risky". In other cases when probabilities cannot be estimated, this is a condition described as "ambiguous". While most people are averse to both risk and ambiguity(1,2), the degree of those aversions vary substantially across individuals, such that the subjective value of the same risky or ambiguous option can be very different for different individuals. We combine functional MRI (fMRI) with an experimental economics-based method(3 )to assess the neural representation of the subjective values of risky and ambiguous options(4). This technique can be now used to study these neural representations in different populations, such as different age groups and different patient populations. In our experiment, subjects make consequential choices between two alternatives while their neural activation is tracked using fMRI. On each trial subjects choose between lotteries that vary in their monetary amount and in either the probability of winning that amount or the ambiguity level associated with winning. Our parametric design allows us to use each individual's choice behavior to estimate their attitudes towards risk and ambiguity, and thus to estimate the subjective values that each option held for them. Another important feature of the design is that the outcome of the chosen lottery is not revealed during the experiment, so that no learning can take place, and thus the ambiguous options remain ambiguous and risk attitudes are stable. Instead, at the end of the scanning session one or few trials are randomly selected and played for real money. Since subjects do not know beforehand which trials will be selected, they must treat each and every trial as if it and it alone was the one trial on which they will be paid. This design ensures that we can estimate the true subjective value of each option to each subject. We then look for areas in the brain whose activation is correlated with the subjective value of risky options and for areas whose activation is correlated with the subjective value of ambiguous options.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalJournal of visualized experiments : JoVE
Issue number67
DOIs
StatePublished - 2012

Keywords

  • Ambiguity
  • Decision-making
  • Fmri
  • Issue 67
  • Magnetic resonance imaging
  • Medicine
  • Molecular biology
  • Neuroscience
  • Risk
  • Uncertainty
  • Value

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Chemical Engineering(all)
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)
  • Neuroscience(all)

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