Miércoles 25 de Octubre de 2006, Ip nº 176

Proof that losing money really is scary
Por Roxanne Khamsi, Atlanta

The fear of losing money can be similar to the fear of physical pain, according to a study of brain scan images.

The finding could potentially shed light on why people who make high risk financial decisions, such as stock market players, sometimes develop anxiety disorders, says Mauricio Delgado at Rutgers University in Newark, New Jersey, US.

In the new study, Delgado and colleagues invited 15 student volunteers to play a gambling game on a computer that, unknown to them, always gave a positive win of $59.

They would then be told of either a $6 loss from their $59 sum, or that the amount they currently possessed would stay the same. Different coloured screens preceded the message.

In the next part of the experiment, rather than lose $6, the students received a mild electric shock to the wrist. Again, coloured screens preceded the outcome. The players soon learned which colour represented each outcome.

No pain, some gain
Brain scans conducted on the participants as they watched the screens showed the colours associated with the $6 loss or electric shock elicited a similar amount of activation in a brain region called the striatum. Researchers have previously linked activity in this region to fear of pain.

The researchers also monitored participants’ skin conductance, a measure of perspiration that indicates stress. The colours that led the players to anticipate money loss or electric shock caused about the same relative increase in skin conductance.

This new study is interesting because it is the first time activity in the striatum has been linked to fear of a monetary loss, comments Read Montague at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, US, who was not involved in the research.

Delgado says that the study provides hard evidence that money can cause a true fearful reaction in the brain. He suggests that the results could help explain why some people who make high-risk decisions about money sometimes develop anxiety problems.

The findings were presented on Tuesday at the Society for Neuroscience annual meeting in Atlanta, US.


  18/10/2006. New Scientist Magazine.