A neurochemical approach to valuation sensitivity over gains and losses

Songfa Zhong, Salomon Israel, Hong Xue, Pak C. Sham, Richard P. Ebstein, Soo Hong Chew

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

66 Scopus citations

Abstract

Prospect theory proposes the hypothesis that people have diminishing sensitivity in valuing increases in the size of monetary outcomes, for both gains and losses. For decision-making under risk, this implies a tendency to be risk-tolerant over losses while being generally risk averse over gains. We offer a neurochemistry-based model of the diminishing valuation sensitivity hypothesis. Specifically, we propose that dopamine tone modulates the sensitivity towards valuation of gains while serotonin tone modulates the sensitivity towards valuation of losses. Consequently, higher dopamine tone would yield a more concave valuation function over gains while higher serotonin tone would yield a more convex valuation function over losses. Using a neurogenetics strategy to test our neurochemical model, we find that subjects with the 9-repeat allele of DAT1 (lower DA tone) are more risk-tolerant over gains than subjects with the 10-repeat allele, and that subjects with the 10-repeat allele of STin2 (higher 5HT tone) are more risk-tolerant over losses than subjects with the 12-repeat allele. Overall, our results support the implications of our model and provide the first neurogenetics evidence that risk attitudes are partially hard-wired in differentiating between gain- and loss-oriented risks.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)4181-4188
Number of pages8
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Volume276
Issue number1676
DOIs
StatePublished - 7 Dec 2009

Keywords

  • Experimental economics
  • Genetics
  • Neuroeconomics
  • Prospect theory
  • Risk attitude

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