Ivy Tso, Ph.D.; Carly Lasagna, BA; Cynthia Burton, Ph.D.; Stephan Taylor, M.D.; and Melvin McInnis, M.D., recently published a paper in Computational Psychiatry that sought to better understand risk-taking behavior in bipolar disorder: “Mathematical Modeling of Risk-Taking in Bipolar Disorder: Evidence of Reduced Behavioral Consistency, With Altered Loss Aversion Specific to Those With History of Substance Use Disorder.”
Bipolar disorder (BD) is associated with excessive pleasure-seeking risk-taking behaviors, but the processes that give rise to these behaviors in BD are not well understood. As an added layer of complexity, over half of individuals with BD experience a substance use disorder (SUD) in their lifetime and data suggest prior SUD may signal additional vulnerability for risky behavior in BD. The team's study sought to (1) highlight the processes that may be affected in BD to produce excessive risk-taking, and (2) determine which factors are additionally affected in those with SUD history to better characterize this added vulnerability.
How and whether people take risks depends on many factors, including their expectations based on past experience, how quickly they learn from the environment, how averse they are to losses, their general tolerance for risk, and how consistent (i.e., deterministic) or inconsistent (i.e., erratic) they are when making decisions. The findings from this study suggest that reduced behavioral consistency is a crucial feature of risky decision-making in BD and that prior SUD in BD may reflect additional trait vulnerabilities (e.g., reduced loss aversion, more pessimistic expectations, and a potentially maladaptive tendency to update beliefs based on recent experience) contributing to risky behavior even when mood symptoms and substance use are in remission.