Approach-avoidance processes contribute to dissociable impacts of risk and loss on choice

Nicholas D Wright, Mkael Symmonds, Karen Hodgson, Thomas H B Fitzgerald, Bonni Crawford, Raymond J Dolan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Citations (Scopus)


Value-based choices are influenced both by risk in potential outcomes and by whether outcomes reflect potential gains or losses. These variables are held to be related in a specific fashion, manifest in risk aversion for gains and risk seeking for losses. Instead, we hypothesized that there are independent impacts of risk and loss on choice such that, depending on context, subjects can show either risk aversion for gains and risk seeking for losses or the exact opposite. We demonstrate this independence in a gambling task, by selectively reversing a loss-induced effect (causing more gambling for gains than losses and the reverse) while leaving risk aversion unaffected. Consistent with these dissociable behavioral impacts of risk and loss, fMRI data revealed dissociable neural correlates of these variables, with parietal cortex tracking risk and orbitofrontal cortex and striatum tracking loss. Based on our neural data, we hypothesized that risk and loss influence action selection through approach-avoidance mechanisms, a hypothesis supported in an experiment in which we show valence and risk-dependent reaction time effects in line with this putative mechanism. We suggest that in the choice process risk and loss can independently engage approach-avoidance mechanisms. This can provide a novel explanation for how risk influences action selection and explains both classically described choice behavior as well as behavioral patterns not predicted by existing theory.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)7009-7020
Number of pages12
JournalThe Journal of Neuroscience
Issue number20
Publication statusPublished - 16 May 2012


  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cerebral Cortex
  • Choice Behavior
  • Corpus Striatum
  • Female
  • Gambling
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Mental Processes
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Psychological
  • Reaction Time
  • Risk-Taking

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