New research (where video games were the central component in helping researchers formulate data on risky behavior) finds that people who engage in behavior that is risky like unprotected sex or drug abuse do so because that have little or no form of impulse control. Russell Poldrack, director of the University of Texas, Austin's Imaging Research Center, and his colleagues at the university analyzed data from 108 subjects who were analyzed using a magnetic resonance imaging scanner while playing a video game that simulated risk-taking.
The specialized software enabled researchers to look for patterns of activity across the entire brain that preceded a subject making a "risky" or "safe" choice in one set of subjects. Researchers then used the software to predict what other subjects would choose during the game based solely on their brain activity. The software accurately predicted subjects' choices 71 percent of the time, according to Poldrack.
"These patterns are reliable enough that not only can we predict what will happen in an additional test on the same person, but on people we haven't seen before," Poldrack said in a statement.
When the researchers used the software to focus on smaller regions of the brain, they found just analyzing the regions typically involved in executive functions such as control, working memory and attention was enough to predict a person's future choices. Based on the tests and data collected, researchers concluded when people make risky choices it is primarily because the body's control systems meant to stop such choices is not working properly.
"We all have these desires, but whether we act on them is a function of control," said lead author Sarah Helfinstein, a postdoctoral researcher at UT Austin.
The findings were recently published online the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.