Why Do We Take Risks?

Why Do People Take Risks?

Does knowing someone who does something risky make you more likely to try it? Published on December 20, 2014 by Romeo Vitelli, Ph.D. in Media Spotlight 0 inShare email

"If all your friends jumped off a bridge then would you too?"  

Though this mantra of frustrated parents through the ages seems like a cliche, it touches on one of the central paradoxes of risky behavour: the existence of "risk gaps" between the kind of risky behaviour we would recommend for others versus the kind we engage in personnally. As one example, while nine out of ten drivers support laws banning texting while driving,  up to eighty percent of the population has done it occasionally. The same gap exists for many other risky behaviours,  things that we know are illegal or dangerous but which we might engage in all the same. This can include impaired driving, not wearing a seatbelt while driving, smoking, etc.   

Research into risky decision-making suggests that we are more impartial when asked to evaluate risk for other people than we are when we do these risky behaviours ourselves. Not only are we less likely to be swayed by cognitive biases in weighing risks for others, but we are less likely to let our emotions get in the way. For researchers looking at how we made decisions about risks, the process is often regarded as an economic model in which we compare costs and benefits involved.  Still, we are also prone to cognitive biases that can influence us into doing things that we might not ordinarily consider doing.  Among the most important of these biases is knowing that others are engaging in that same risky behaviour.

To read more, check out my new Psychology Today blog post.







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