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The Neural Basis of Financial Risk Taking

  • Camelia Kuhnen

    (Stanford Graduate School of Business)

  • Brian Knutson

    (Stanford University Department of Psychology)

Investors systematically deviate from rationality when making financial decisions, yet the mechanisms responsible for these deviations have not been identified. Using event-related fMRI, we examined whether anticipatory neural activity would predict optimal and suboptimal choices in a financial decision-making task. We characterized two types of deviations from the optimal investment strategy of a rational risk- neutral agent as risk-seeking mistakes and risk-aversion mistakes. Nucleus accumbens activation preceded risky choices as well as risk- seeking mistakes, while anterior insula activation preceded riskless choices as well as risk-aversion mistakes. These findings suggest that distinct neural circuits linked to anticipatory affect promote different types of financial choices, and indicate that excessive activation of these circuits may lead to investing mistakes. Thus, consideration of anticipatory neural mechanisms may add predictive power to the rational actor model of economic decision-making.

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Paper provided by EconWPA in its series Experimental with number 0509001.

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Length: 46 pages
Date of creation: 06 Sep 2005
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:wpa:wuwpex:0509001
Note: Type of Document - pdf; pages: 46. Published in Neuron, Vol. 47, 763-770, September 1, 2005.
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  1. Colin Camerer & George Loewenstein & Drazen Prelec, 2003. "Neuroeconomics: How neuroscience can inform economics," Levine's Bibliography 506439000000000484, UCLA Department of Economics.
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  4. Caplin, Andrew & Leahy, John, 1997. "Psychological Expected Utility Theory and Anticipatory Feelings," Working Papers 97-37, C.V. Starr Center for Applied Economics, New York University.
  5. Rabin, Matthew, 2000. "Risk Aversion and Expected-Utility Theory: A Calibration Theorem," Department of Economics, Working Paper Series qt731230f8, Department of Economics, Institute for Business and Economic Research, UC Berkeley.
  6. Kahneman, Daniel & Tversky, Amos, 1979. "Prospect Theory: An Analysis of Decision under Risk," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 47(2), pages 263-91, March.
  7. Terrance Odean, 1998. "Are Investors Reluctant to Realize Their Losses?," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 53(5), pages 1775-1798, October.
  8. Hirshleifer, David, 2001. "Investor Psychology and Asset Pricing," MPRA Paper 5300, University Library of Munich, Germany.
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