Brain Scans Show We Take Risks Because We Can’t Stop Ourselves

A new study correlating brain activity with how people make decisions suggests that when individuals engage in risky behavior, such as drunk driving or unsafe sex, it’s probably not because their brains’ desire systems are too active, but because their self-control systems are not active enough.

This might have implications for how health experts treat mental illness and addiction or how the legal system assesses a criminal’s likelihood of committing another crime.

When these brain regions (mostly associated with control) aren’t active enough, we make risky choices. Z-statistic corresponds to predictive ability, yellow being the most predictive regions. Credit Sarah Helfinstein/U. of Texas at Austin.

Researchers from The University of Texas at Austin, UCLA and elsewhere analyzed data from 108 subjects who sat in a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner — a machine that allows researchers to pinpoint brain activity in vivid, three-dimensional images — while playing a video game that simulates risk-taking.

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