Gambling on an empty stomach: Hunger modulates preferences for learned but not described risks
van Swieten MMH., Bogacz R., Manohar S.
We assess risks differently when they are explicitly described, compared to when we learn directly from experience, suggesting dissociable decision-making systems. Our needs, such as hunger, could globally affect our risk preferences, but do they affect described and learned risks equally? On one hand, explicit decision-making is often considered flexible and contextsensitive, and might therefore be modulated by metabolic needs. On the other hand, implicit preferences learned through reinforcement might be more strongly coupled to biological drives. To answer this, we asked participants to choose between two options with different risks, where the probabilities of monetary outcomes were either described or learned. In agreement with previous studies, rewarding contexts induced risk-aversion when risks were explicitly described, but risk-seeking when they were learned through experience. Crucially, hunger attenuated these contextual biases, but only for learned risks. The results suggest that our metabolic state determines risk-taking biases when we lack explicit descriptions.