Decision making in the Balloon Analogue Risk Task (BART): anterior cingulate cortex signals loss aversion but not the infrequency of risky choices

Cogn Affect Behav Neurosci. 2012 Sep;12(3):479-90. doi: 10.3758/s13415-012-0102-1.


The inferior frontal gyrus/anterior insula (IFG/AI) and anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) are key regions involved in risk appraisal during decision making, but accounts of how these regions contribute to decision making under risk remain contested. To help clarify the roles of these and other related regions, we used a modified version of the Balloon Analogue Risk Task (Lejuez et al., Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 8, 75-84, 2002) to distinguish between decision-making and feedback-related processes when participants decided to pursue a gain as the probability of loss increased parametrically. Specifically, we set out to test whether the ACC and IFG/AI regions correspond to loss aversion at the time of decision making in a way that is not confounded with either reward-seeking or infrequency effects. When participants chose to discontinue inflating the balloon (win option), we observed greater ACC and mainly bilateral IFG/AI activity at the time of decision as the probability of explosion increased, consistent with increased loss aversion but inconsistent with an infrequency effect. In contrast, we found robust vmPFC activity when participants chose to continue inflating the balloon (risky option), consistent with reward seeking. However, in the cingulate and in mainly bilateral IFG regions, blood-oxygenation-level-dependent activation decreased when participants chose to inflate the balloon as the probability of explosion increased, findings that are consistent with a reduced loss aversion signal. Our results highlight the existence of distinct reward-seeking and loss-averse signals during decision making, as well as the importance of distinguishing between decision and feedback signals.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Brain Mapping
  • Decision Making / physiology*
  • Female
  • Gyrus Cinguli / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Reward*
  • Risk-Taking*
  • Young Adult