Better the devil you know than the devil you don't: Neural processing of risk and ambiguity

Shuyi Wu, Sai Sun, Julia A. Camilleri, Simon B. Eickhoff, Rongjun Yu*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

28 Citations (Scopus)


Risk and ambiguity are inherent in virtually all human decision-making. Risk refers to a situation in which we know the precise probability of potential outcomes of each option, whereas ambiguity refers to a situation in which outcome probabilities are not known. A large body of research has shown that individuals prefer known risks to ambiguity, a phenomenon known as ambiguity aversion. One heated debate concerns whether risky and ambiguous decisions rely on the same or distinct neural circuits. In the current meta-analyses, we integrated the results of neuroimaging research on decision-making under risk (n = 69) and ambiguity (n = 31). Our results showed that both processing of risk and ambiguity showed convergence in anterior insula, indicating a key role of anterior insula in encoding uncertainty. Risk additionally engaged dorsomedial prefrontal cortex (dmPFC) and ventral striatum, whereas ambiguity specifically recruited the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC), inferior parietal lobe (IPL) and right anterior insula. Our findings demonstrate overlapping and distinct neural substrates underlying different types of uncertainty, guiding future neuroimaging research on risk-taking and ambiguity aversion.

Original languageEnglish
Article number118109
Number of pages23
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2021

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Neurology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience

User-Defined Keywords

  • ALE
  • Ambiguity
  • Meta-analysis
  • Neuroimaging
  • Reward
  • Risk
  • Uncertainty


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