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Keywords:

  • risk perception;
  • fMRI;
  • social/physical risk;
  • medial prefrontal cortex;
  • anterior cingulate cortex

Abstract

Psychometric studies of risk perception have categorized personal risks into social and physical domains. To investigate whether and how the human brain differentiates social and physical risks, we scanned human adults using functional magnetic resonance imaging when they identified potential risks involved in social and physical behaviors. We found that the identification of risky behaviors in both domains induced increased activations in the anterior medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC, BA9/10)/ventral anterior cingulate (ACC) and posterior cingulate (PCC) relative to identification of safe behaviors. However, social risks induced stronger anterior MPFC activation whereas physical risks were associated with stronger ventral ACC activity. In addition, anterior MPFC activity was negatively correlated with the rating scores of the degree of social risk whereas PCC activity was positively correlated with the rating scores of the degree of physical risk. Relative to an autobiographical control task, the social risk identification task induced stronger sustained activity in the left supplementary motor area/dorsal ACC and increased transient activity in bilateral posterior insula. The physical risk identification task, however, resulted in stronger sustained activity in the right cuneus/precuneus and increased transient activation in bilateral amygdala. Our results indicate the existence of distinct neural mechanisms underlying social and physical risk identifications and provide neural bases for the psychometric categorization of risks into different domains. Hum Brain Mapp, 2009. © 2008 Wiley-Liss, Inc.