Afraid to Lose Money? Congratulations, You Have a Healthy Amygdala (or You’re a VC)

A study released earlier today shines a bit more light on why most people are afraid to gamble, while others are willing to roll the dice despite sometimes poor odds of a higher return.

Published by scientists at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena and at University College of London, the research centered on two women with Urbach-Wiethe, a disease that damages the amygdala, an almond-shaped part of the brain linked to feelings of fear and aggression. While it’s generally the case that people are risk-averse, even when facing a potentially big gain — they prefer holding on to what they have, rather than risking it to trade up — the women with Urbach-Wiethe were more reckless, willing to gamble with abandon no matter their chances of a positive return.

“We think this shows that the amygdala is critical for triggering a sense of caution toward making gambles in which you might lose,” said one of the researchers in a statement.

To reach their findings — published in the multidisciplinary journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences — the researchers compared the responses of the women with Urbach-Wiethe with those of 12 volunteers who have “normal” undamaged brains.