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Electrophysiological correlates of decision-making in high-risk versus low-risk conditions of a gambling game

Authors

  • Juan Yang,

    1. Key Laboratory of Cognition and Personality, Ministry of Education, Southwest University, Chongqing, China
    2. School of Psychology, Southwest University, Chongqing, China
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  • Qinglin Zhang

    1. Key Laboratory of Cognition and Personality, Ministry of Education, Southwest University, Chongqing, China
    2. School of Psychology, Southwest University, Chongqing, China
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  • This work was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (30900397), the Natural Science Foundation Project of CQ CSTC (2010BB5001), and the Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities (SWU1009100). The authors wish to thank Ruifang Zhao, Xiao Xiao, and Lei Jia for their assistance in recording the EEGs, and Katarina Dedovic for editorial assistance. We are also grateful to anonymous reviewers for helpful comments on an earlier draft of the manuscript.

Address correspondence to: Dr. Juan Yang, School of Psychology, Southwest University, Chongqing 400715, China. E-mail: valleyqq@swu.edu.cn

Abstract

The majority of studies investigating risky decision making focus on the high-conflict condition, and very few consider the low-conflict condition in which there is either a very high or a very low probability of risk. Even though the high-risk condition and low-risk condition are both considered low-conflict decision scenarios and both behavioral outcomes are highly predictable, these conditions still differ in terms of the probabilities of reward and punishment. In the following study, we investigated both behavioral and electrophysiological correlates associated with high- and low-risk conditions within the low-conflict scenario, as well as high-conflict condition, in a modified gambling game. The behavioral results showed that, within the low-conflict scenario, the participants took more time to make the decision in the high-risk condition compared to the low-risk condition. The event-related potentials (ERP) data showed that, during the decision making, the high-risk condition evoked a more negative ERP deflection than did the low-risk condition in the time window of 300–500 ms (N400), which had a frontocentral focus of scalp distribution. The results suggested that the high-risk condition was associated with a higher conflict between the participants' “motivationally based” tendency to want to receive cards and the task instructions, which stated that the face value of the first two cards will strongly predict a low probability of success. It was further speculated that the N400 in the present study might be associated with anticipation of negative rewards, which was functionally equivalent to the FRN (feedback-related negativity) to negative outcomes.

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