The role of risk aversion in non-conscious decision making
- 1 Computation and Neural Systems, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA, USA
- 2 Humanities and Social Sciences, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA, USA
- 3 Department of Economics, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland
- 4 Brain Science Institute, RIKEN, Saitama-ken, Japan
- 5 Advanced Telecommunication Research, Kyoto-fu, Japan
- 6 Japan Science and Technology, Tokyo-to, Japan
- 7 School of Psychology and Psychiatry, Faculty of Medicine, Nursing, and Health Sciences, Monash University, Clayton, VIC, Australia
To what extent can people choose advantageously without knowing why they are making those choices? This hotly debated question has capitalized on the Iowa Gambling Task (IGT), in which people often learn to choose advantageously without appearing to know why. However, because the IGT is unconstrained in many respects, this finding remains debated and other interpretations are possible (e.g., risk aversion, ambiguity aversion, limits of working memory, or insensitivity to reward/punishment can explain the finding of the IGT). Here we devised an improved variant of the IGT in which the deck-payoff contingency switches after subjects repeatedly choose from a good deck, offering the statistical power of repeated within-subject measures based on learning the reward contingencies associated with each deck. We found that participants exhibited low confidence in their choices, as probed with post-decision wagering, despite high accuracy in selecting advantageous decks in the task, which is putative evidence for non-conscious decision making. However, such a behavioral dissociation could also be explained by risk aversion, a tendency to avoid risky decisions under uncertainty. By explicitly measuring risk aversion for each individual, we predicted subjects’ post-decision wagering using Bayesian modeling. We found that risk aversion indeed does play a role, but that it did not explain the entire effect. Moreover, independently measured risk aversion was uncorrelated with risk aversion exhibited during our version of the IGT, raising the possibility that the latter risk aversion may be non-conscious. Our findings support the idea that people can make optimal choices without being fully aware of the basis of their decision. We suggest that non-conscious decision making may be mediated by emotional feelings of risk that are based on mechanisms distinct from those that support cognitive assessment of risk.
Keywords: decision making, consciousness, risk aversion, post-decision wagering, confidence
Citation: Wang S, Krajbich I, Adolphs R and Tsuchiya N (2012) The role of risk aversion in non-conscious decision making. Front. Psychology 3:50. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00050
Received: 13 October 2011;
Accepted: 09 February 2012;
Published online: 27 February 2012.
, Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, Israel
Copyright: © 2012 Wang, Krajbich, Adolphs and Tsuchiya. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial License, which permits non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in other forums, provided the original authors and source are credited.
*Correspondence: Naotsugu Tsuchiya, School of Psychology and Psychiatry, Faculty of Medicine, Nursing, and Health Sciences, Monash University, Building 17, Clayton Campus, Clayton 3800, VIC, Australia. e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org