Risk taking

Wang, X. T., Kruger, D.J., & Wilke, A. (2009). Life-history variables and risk-taking propensity. Evolution and Human Behavior, 30, 77-84.

We examined the effects of life-history variables on risk-taking propensity, measured by subjective likelihoods of engaging in risky behaviors in five evolutionarily valid domains of risk, including between-group competition, within-group competition, environmental challenge, mating and resource allocation, and fertility and reproduction. The effects of life-history variables on risk-taking propensity were domain specific, except for the expected sex difference, where men predicted greater risk taking than women in all domains. Males also perceived less inherent risk in actions than females across the five domains. Although the age range in the sample was limited, older respondents showed lower risk propensity in both between- and within-group competition. Parenthood reduced risk-taking propensity in within- and between-group competitions. Higher reproductive goal setting (desiring more offspring) was associated with lower risk-taking propensity. This effect was strongest in the risk domains of mating and reproduction. Having more siblings reduced risk-taking propensity (contrary to our initial prediction) in the domains of environmental challenge, reproduction, and between-group competition. Later-born children showed a higher propensity to engage in environmental and mating risks. Last, shorter subjective life expectancy was associated with increased willingness to take mating and reproductive risks. These results suggest that life-history variables regulate human risk-taking propensity in specific risk domains.

Kruger, D.J., Reischl, T.M., & Zimmerman, M.A. (2008). Time perspective as a mechanism for functional developmental adaptation. Journal of Social, Evolutionary, and Cultural Psychology, 2, 1-22.

Evolutionary Life History Theory (LHT) is a powerful framework that can be used for understanding behavioral strategies as functional adaptations to environmental conditions. Some evolutionary theorists have described how developmental environments can shape behavioral strategies. Theorists and previous research suggest that individuals developing in relatively less certain environments will exhibit riskier, present oriented, behavioral strategies because of the low probability of reproductive success for more cautious approaches. An evolutionary psychology approach to LHT includes the identification of psychological processes that regulate behavioral strategies as a result of developmental experiences. This paper proposes that time perspective is one psychological mechanism that may underlie functional developmental adaptation. A survey study of urban middle school students (N = 607) assessed the relationship between perceptions of local social conditions, time perspective, and risky behaviors. Structural equation model analyses indicated that present and future orientations completely mediated the relationship of positive and negative aspects of students' neighborhood social environment with reports of interpersonal aggression and illicit resource exploitation This model had a better fit to the data than competing models depicting time perspective as a byproduct of either phenotypic strategy or social-environmental experiences.

Kruger, D.J., Wang, X. T., & Wilke, A. (2007). Towards the development of an evolutionarily valid domain-specific risk-taking scale. Evolutionary Psychology, 5, 570-583.

From an evolutionary perspective, human risk-taking behaviors should be viewed in relation to evolutionarily recurrent survival and reproductive problems. In response to recent calls for domain-specific measures of risk-taking, we emphasize the need of evolutionarily valid domains. We report on two studies designed to validate a scale of risky behaviors in domains selected from research and theory in evolutionary psychology and biology, corresponding to reoccurring challenges in the ancestral environment. Behaviors were framed in situations which people would have some chance of encountering in modern times. We identify five domains of risk-taking: between-group competition, within-group competition, mating and resource allocation for mate attraction, environmental risks, and fertility risks.

Wilke, A., Hutchinson, J.M., Todd, P.M., & Kruger, D.J. (2006). Is risk taking used as a cue in mate choice? Evolutionary Psychology, 4, 367-393.

More frequent risk taking among young men than women has been explained as a sexually selected trait, perhaps advertising male quality. We investigated this hypothesis in three studies. (1) Young men and women rated how attractive they would find it if a potential partner took various specific risks. A domain-specific risk inventory allowed us to distinguish whether risk taking is attractive generally or only in certain domains. Both sexes reported social and recreational risk taking as attractive (the latter not always significantly so), but other domains of risk taking as unattractive (ethics, gambling, and health) or neutral (investment). The sexes differed markedly little. Parallel studies in Germany and the United States yielded very similar results. (2) We asked subjects to predict how attractive the other sex would find it if the subject performed each risky behavior. Both sexes were rather accurate (which could be merely because they assume that the other sex feels as they do) and sex differences in attractive risk taking are not explicable by sex differences either in attraction or in beliefs about what others find attractive. However, our data could explain why unattractive risks are more often taken by men than women (men slightly underestimated the degree of unattractiveness of such risks, whereas U.S. women overestimated it, perhaps because they themselves found such risk taking more unattractive than did U.S. men). (3) Both members of 25 couples reported their likelihood of engaging in specific risky behaviors, their perception of these risks, and how attractive they would have found these behaviors in their partner. One hypothesis was that, for instance, a woman afraid of heights would be particularly impressed by a man oblivious to such risks. Instead we found positive assortment for risk taking, which might be explained by a greater likelihood of encountering people with similar risk attitudes (e.g. members of the same clubs) or a greater compatibility between such mates. Finally, contrary to the assumption that taking a low risk is likely to be less revealing of an individual's quality than taking a high risk, we found a strong negative relationship between the perceived riskiness of a behavior and how attractive it was judged.

See also: Mortality patterns