New Brain Chip Implanted in Monkeys Could End Gambling Addiction

Written by:
Nagesh Rath
Published on:
Jan/04/2024

Scientists have developed a brain chip that purports to lower risk-taking in monkeys and could be coming to a human brain near you shortly.

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A team of researchers at Kyoto University in Japan used flashes of light from implanted chips to activate two different sections of the monkeys' brains.  The monkeys, which are closely related to humans, are known to be natural risk takers.

When the scientists stimulated a specific brain area, the animals became more careful.

Peter Hess of the Daily Mail explained the process in determining whether the primates liked to gamble:

They trained the macaques to look at different colored spots on a screen to receive a water reward.

Some spots would give the monkey a small reward 90 percent of the time - low risk, low reward.

Others gave a reward that was 10 times larger, but it only paid out 10 percent of the time - high risk, high reward.

Overwhelmingly, the monkeys went for the high-risk, high-reward spots. Like a gambler at a slot machine, even though they may lose more often than they win, they gambled with their eye on a big payout.

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Each brain area was injected with a chemical that prevents neurons from sending signals. Upon inactivating one of the sections, the monkeys stopped taking risks.

The region researchers identified is part of the Brodmann area in the monkey frontal lobe, which is associated with speech, hearing and movement. Specifically, it was Brodmann area 6, which is involved in planning complex and coordinated movement, Hess points out.

The researchers also illuminated the bottom portion of Brodmann area 6 and immediately noticed the monkeys ramped up the riskiness when playing a video game, opting even more often for the dangerous path to greater reward.

When the top part of the same region was activated, they became more cautious, choosing the safer path with a smaller payoff. 

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Hess writes:

All together, the results led the researchers to speculate that the two parts of the Brodmann area 6 'might separately encode for different risk-return computations.'

In other words, different parts of the same brain region may be working in totally different ways to calculate risk many times every day.

In people, the frontal lobe is involved in personality, planning, organizing, and goal-oriented behavior.

Scientists hope to some day apply this research towards humans with gambling addiction.

Abstract of the study:

Decision-making is always coupled with some level of risk, with more pathological forms of risk-taking decisions manifesting as gambling disorders. In macaque monkeys trained in a high risk–high return (HH) versus low risk–low return (LL) choice task, we found that the reversible pharmacological inactivation of ventral Brodmann area 6 (area 6V) impaired the risk dependency of decision-making. Selective optogenetic activation of the mesofrontal pathway from the ventral tegmental area (VTA) to the ventral aspect of 6V resulted in stronger preference for HH, whereas activation of the pathway from the VTA to the dorsal aspect of 6V led to LL preference. Finally, computational decoding captured the modulations of behavioral preference. Our results suggest that VTA inputs to area 6V determine the decision balance between HH and LL.

If you or someone you know has a gambling addiction, call 1-800-662-4357 (US).

- Nagesh Rath, Gambling911.com

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