Beyond risk and ambiguity: Deciding under ignorance

Helen Pushkarskaya*, Xun Liu, Michael Smithson, Jane E. Joseph

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    24 Citations (Scopus)


    In this study, we examined the neural basis of decision making under different types of uncertainty that involve missing information: ambiguity (vague probabilities) and sample space ignorance (SSI; unknown outcomes). fMRI revealed that these two different types of uncertainty recruit distinct neural substrates: Ambiguity recruits the left insula, whereas SSI recruits the anterior cingulate cortex, bilateral inferior parietal cortex, and the lateral orbitofrontal cortex. The finding of unique activations for different types of uncertainty may not necessarily be predicted within the reductive approach of modern theories of decision making under uncertainty, because these theories purport that humans reduce more complicated uncertain environments to subjectively formed less complicated ones (i.e., SSI to ambiguity). The predictions of the reductive view held only for ambiguityaverse individuals and not for ambiguity-tolerant individuals. Consequently, theories of decision making under uncertainty should include individual tolerance for missing information and how these individual differences modulate the neural systems engaged during decision making. Supplemental materials for this article may be downloaded from

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)382-391
    Number of pages10
    JournalCognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - Sept 2010


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