IU researchers studying why some make risky decisions

Photo of brain scan. (WISH Photo)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Researchers with Indiana University’s School of Medicine are at work to learn why some people are prone to make risky decisions. They are in the middle of a long-term study to learn more about the youth.

The study is in its second of five years. The goal is to understand how and why some people make risky decisions and why others do not.

“We’re trying to learn about the risky decision making in that moment when that happens and then we’re having them grow up over five years and watch what happens in their naturally occurring behavior. Do they start taking more risks?” said Leslie Hulvershorn, who is an associate professor of Clinical Psychiatry IU school of medicine.

They hope to be able to go back and look at brain scans that were taken early on in the study and follow the participants throughout to see if they can predict who is more at risk.

Once those answers are found, the next step would be to work to create preventive and treatment methods. High-risk decisions could be anything from distracted driving, drinking, drugs, smoking and beyond.

During the study, participants will go through an experiment that is set up to mimic a high-risk situation.

“We have a task that involves inflating and popping pretend balloons and the kids are told if their balloon gets big, they get money for that balloon and the bigger balloon, they get more money and we actually give them cash. But of course, the bigger the balloon, the more likely it is to pop,” Hulvershorn added.

Hulvershorn said they have realized that some adolescents do not do well with perceiving risks because parts of their brain do not fire correctly.

“Some adolescents brains are not very sensitive with risks. So, what that means is when they’re presented with risky situations. Most adolescents’ brains are able to say ‘you know what, that’s not good idea, something bad could happen’ but some adolescents and some with a family history of substance problems running through their family history, those adolescents allow them to easily perceive that a certain situation is dangerous or risky,” Hulvershorn said.

Researchers still need more participants. They hope to get about 250 for the study. They are seeking 11 and 12 year olds with or without ADHD. Participants will get a free mental health evaluation and can make up to $480. For more information call 317-278-7795 or email iubrain@iupui.edu.