Increased activation in the right insula during risk-taking decision making is related to harm avoidance and neuroticism

Neuroimage. 2003 Aug;19(4):1439-48. doi: 10.1016/s1053-8119(03)00251-9.


Decision making and risk taking are interrelated processes that are important for daily functioning. The somatic marker hypothesis has provided a conceptual basis for processes involved in risk-taking decision making and has been used to link discrete neural substrates to risk-related behaviors. This investigation examined the hypothesis that the degree of risk-taking is related to the degree of activation in the insular cortex. Seventeen healthy, right-handed subjects performed a risk-taking decision-making task during functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) using a fast event-related design. This investigation yielded three main findings. First, right insula (BA 13) activation was significantly stronger when subjects selected a "risky" response versus selecting a "safe" response. Second, the degree of insula activation was related to the probability of selecting a "safe" response following a punished response. Third, the degree of insula activation was related to the subjects' degree of harm avoidance and neuroticism as measured by the TCI and NEO personality questionnaires, respectively. These results are consistent with the hypothesis that insula activation serves as a critical neural substrate to instantiate aversive somatic markers that guide risk-taking decision-making behavior.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Arousal / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiopathology*
  • Decision Making / physiology*
  • Dominance, Cerebral / physiology*
  • Female
  • Harm Reduction / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neurotic Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Personality Inventory
  • Probability Learning
  • Risk-Taking*