Full text
Risky decision-making strategies mediate the relationship between amygdala activity and real-world financial savings among individuals from lower income households: A pilot study

Poudel R, Tobia MJ, Riedel MC, Salo T, Flannery JS, Hill-Bowen LD, Dick AS, Laird AR, Parra CM, Sutherland MT, Behav Brain Res 428 :113867 (2022).


Lower financial savings among individuals experiencing adverse social determinants of health (SDoH) increases vulnerabilities during times of crisis. SDoH including low socioeconomic status (low-SES) influence cognitive abilities as well as health and life outcomes that may perpetuate poverty and disparities. Despite evidence suggesting a role for financial growth in minimizing SDoH-related disparities and vulnerabilities, neurobiological mechanisms linked with financial behavior remain to be elucidated. As such, we examined the relationships between brain activity during decision-making (DM), laboratory-based task performance, and money savings behavior. Participants (N = 24, 14 females) from low-SES households (income<$20,000/year) underwent fMRI scanning while performing the Balloon Analogue Risk Task (BART), a DM paradigm probing risky- and strategic-DM processes. Participants also completed self-report instruments characterizing relevant personality characteristics and then engaged in a community outreach financial program where amount of money saved was tracked over a 6-month period. Regarding BART-related brain activity, we observed expected activity in regions implicated in reward and emotional processing including the amygdala. Regarding brain-behavior relationships, we found that laboratory-based BART performance mediated the impact of amygdala activity on real-world behavior. That is, elevated amygdala activity was linked with BART strategic-DM which, in turn, was linked with more money saved after 6 months. In exploratory analyses, this mediation was moderated by emotion-related personality characteristics such that, only individuals reporting lower alexithymia demonstrated a relationship between amygdala activity and savings. These outcomes suggest that DM-related amygdala activity and/or emotion-related personality characteristics may provide utility as an endophenotypic marker of individual’s financial savings behavior.