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 that often characterize its clinical presentation. However, the mechanisms of risk-taking behavior are not well-understood in BD. Recent data suggest prior substance use disorder (SUD) in BD may represent certain trait-level vulnerabilities for risky behavior. This study examined the mechanisms of risk-taking and the role of SUD in BD via mathematical modeling of behavior on the Balloon Analogue Risk Task (BART). Three groups—18 euthymic BD with prior SUD (BD+), 15 euthymic BD without prior SUD (BD–), and 33 healthy comparisons (HC)—completed the BART. Behavior was modeled using four competing hierarchical Bayesian models. Model comparison results favored the Exponential-Weight Mean-Variance (EWMV) model, which encompasses and delineates five cognitive components of risk-taking: prior belief, learning rate, risk preference, loss aversion, and behavioral consistency. Both BD groups, regardless of SUD history, showed lower behavioral consistency than HC. BD+ exhibited more pessimistic prior beliefs (relative to BD– and HC) and reduced loss aversion (relative to HC) during risk-taking on the BART. Traditional measures of risk-taking on the BART detected no group differences. These findings suggest that reduced behavioral consistency is a crucial feature of risky decision-making in BD and that SUD history in BD may signal additional trait vulnerabilities for risky behavior even when mood symptoms and substance use are in remission. This study also underscores the value of using mathematical modeling to understand behavior in research on complex disorders like BD.