Neuroscience

Hot Streaks and Day Traders

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Science  25 Aug 2000:
Vol. 289, Issue 5483, pp. 1257
DOI: 10.1126/science.289.5483.1257d

The behavior of most animals is driven by instincts that promote the survival of the individual. Gratification of instincts usually is experienced as reward, which has been studied in animal experiments and also has spawned an extensive literature on the human brain areas involved. Humans, however, also can experience more abstract types of reinforcement, and the underlying brain circuitry for these more complex types of reward is much less well mapped.

Elliott et al. studied the neural responses of subjects participating in a card gambling task where they received only abstract financial rewards or penalties. They found increased activity in right midbrain regions and the right ventral striatum when individuals were winning, and an increased activity in the hippocampus and parahippocampus when subjects were losing. In addition, during a winning streak when reward was increasing rapidly, there was a unique response in the anterior medial thalamus, pallidum, and the subgenual cingulate. These experiments reveal a complex pattern of activity in the human brain reward system with specific activation of sites in a context-sensitive way, and they offer a glimpse of the multitude of the processes that occur in the brain of a gambler or perhaps a trader in the equity markets. — PRS

J. Neurosci.20, 6159 (2000).

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