2019 AMI Online Salon

How the Brain Decides Whether to Hold’Em or Fold’Em: Risk-taking bias in human decision-making is encoded via a right–left brain push–pull system

Project Details

  • Entrant Name: Jennifer Fairman
  • Membership Type: Professional Submission
  • Address: Baltimore, MD
  • Client: Pierre Sacré, PhD and Sridevi V. Sarma, PhD, Institute for Computational Medicine, Johns Hopkins University Whiting School of Engineering
  • Medium/software used: Graphite Pencil, Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, anonymized patient CT image
  • Final presentation format: Journal Cover for PNAS, feature image for subsequent press releases
  • Primary Audience: Basic Science Researchers, Neuroscientists, Biomedical Engineers

Project Description

To illustrate the symmetrical role right-left brain activity plays in high-risk decision-making.

Using stereoelectroencephalography, researchers gained an intimate look at patients’ brains in real time as they gambled against a computer in a card game of “war” where 2, 4, 6, 8 and 10 were the only cards drawn. The study showed that the decision for participants to “up the ante,” even in the face of long odds, results from an internal cumulative bias involving a “push-pull” dynamic between the brain’s two hemispheres.

Like the Angel vs. Demon idiom (seen metaphorically on the card design and in the brain), if the right hemisphere has high-frequency activity, it pushes a subject to take more risk (high bet, red poker chips). If the left hemisphere has high-frequency activity, it’s pulling a subject away from taking a risk (low bet, blue poker chips). The Stochastic Dynamical Model of Choice, the formula used in quantifying the study’s results, is depicted as the Table Rules.