When we make risky choices, it is primarily because of the failure of our control systems to stop us, said a study that correlated brain activity with individuals engaging in risky behaviour.

"We all have these desires, but whether we act on them is a function of control," said Sarah Helfinstein, a postdoctoral researcher at University of Texas at Austin. Researchers from UT Austin and University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) analysed data from 108 participants who sat in a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner.

The scanner allows researchers to pinpoint brain activity in vivid, three-dimensional images while playing a video game called the balloon analogue risk task (BART) that simulates risk-taking.

The researchers used specialised software to look for patterns of activity across the whole brain that preceded a person's making a risky choice or a safe choice in one set of subjects.

Then they asked the software to predict what other subjects would choose during the game based solely on their brain activity.

The software accurately predicted people's choices 71 percent of the time."These patterns are reliable enough that not only can we predict what would happen in an additional test on the same person but on people we haven't seen before," said Russ Poldrack, director of UT Austin's imaging research centre and professor of psychology and neuroscience.

Additional research could focus on how external factors such as peer pressure, lack of sleep or hunger weaken the activity of our brains' control systems when we contemplate risky decisions."If we can figure out the factors in the world that influence the brain, we can draw conclusions about what actions are best at helping people resist risks," Helfinstein added.

This research can help health experts treat mental illness and addiction better or how the legal system assesses a criminal's likelihood of committing another crime, said the study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


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