Variables influencing the neural correlates of perceived risk of physical harm

Mariam Coaster, Baxter P. Rogers, Owen D. Jones, W. Kip Viscusi, Kristen L. Merkle, David H. Zald, John C. Gore

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Many human activities involve a risk of physical harm. However, not much is known about the specific brain regions involved in decision making regarding these risks. To explore the neural correlates of risk perception for physical harms, 19 participants took part in an event-related fMRI study while rating risky activities. The scenarios varied in level of potential harm (e.g., paralysis vs. stubbed toe), likelihood of injury (e.g., 1 chance in 100 vs. 1 chance in 1,000), and format (frequency vs. probability). Networks of brain regions were responsive to different aspects of risk information. Cortical language-processing areas, the middle temporal gyrus, and a region around the bed nucleus of stria terminalis responded more strongly to high-harm conditions. Prefrontal areas, along with subcortical ventral striatum, responded preferentially to highlikelihood conditions. Participants rated identical risks to be greater when information was presented in frequency format rather than probability format. These findings indicate that risk assessments for physical harm engage a broad network of brain regions that are sensitive to the severity of harm, the likelihood of risk, and the framing of risk information.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)494-507
Number of pages14
JournalCognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2011
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


  • Decision-making
  • Risk prefrontal cortex


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