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Missed losses loom larger than missed gains: Electrodermal reactivity to decision choices and outcomes in a gambling task.

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Wu, Yin 
Van Dijk, Eric 
Aitken, Mike 
Clark, Luke 


Loss aversion is a defining characteristic of prospect theory, whereby responses are stronger to losses than to equivalently sized gains (Kahneman & Tversky Econometrica, 47, 263-291, 1979). By monitoring electrodermal activity (EDA) during a gambling task, in this study we examined physiological activity during risky decisions, as well as to both obtained (e.g., gains and losses) and counterfactual (e.g., narrowly missed gains and losses) outcomes. During the bet selection phase, EDA increased linearly with bet size, highlighting the role of somatic signals in decision-making under uncertainty in a task without any learning requirement. Outcome-related EDA scaled with the magnitudes of monetary wins and losses, and losses had a stronger impact on EDA than did equivalently sized wins. Narrowly missed wins (i.e., near-wins) and narrowly missed losses (i.e., near-losses) also evoked EDA responses, and the change of EDA as a function of the size of the missed outcome was modestly greater for near-losses than for near-wins, suggesting that near-losses have more impact on subjective value than do near-wins. Across individuals, the slope for choice-related EDA (as a function of bet size) correlated with the slope for outcome-related EDA as a function of both the obtained and counterfactual outcome magnitudes, and these correlations were stronger for loss and near-loss conditions than for win and near-win conditions. Taken together, these asymmetrical EDA patterns to objective wins and losses, as well as to near-wins and near-losses, provide a psychophysiological instantiation of the value function curve in prospect theory, which is steeper in the negative than in the positive domain.


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Arousal, Loss aversion, Near-miss, Prospect theory, Somatic marker hypothesis, Adult, Choice Behavior, Decision Making, Female, Galvanic Skin Response, Gambling, Heart Rate, Humans, Male, Reward, Risk, Risk-Taking, Young Adult

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Cogn Affect Behav Neurosci

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Springer Science and Business Media LLC
Medical Research Council (G1000183)
Wellcome Trust (093875/Z/10/Z)
Medical Research Council (G0001354)
This work was completed within the University of Cambridge Behavioural and Clinical Neuroscience Institute (director: TW Robbins), supported by a consortium award from the Medical Research Council (MRC Ref G1000183) and Wellcome Trust (WT Ref 093875/Z/10/Z). YW was supported by a Chinese Scholarship Council–Cambridge International Scholarship and the Treherne Studentship in Biological Sciences from Downing College, Cambridge. LC is the Director of the Centre for Gambling Research at UBC, which is supported by funding from the British Columbia Lottery Corporation and the Province of BC government.