1. Study suggests motivational music increases risk-taking but does not improve sports performance

    February 11, 2018 by Ashley

    From the Frontiers press release:

    A new study finds that listening to motivational music during sport activities and exercise increases risk-taking behavior but does not improve overall performance. The effect was more noticeable among men and participants who selected their own playlist. The study, published in Frontiers in Psychology, also found that self-selected music had the power to enhance self-esteem among those who were already performing well, but not among participants who were performing poorly.

    Listening to motivational music has become a popular way of enhancing mood, motivation and positive self-evaluation during sports and exercise. There is an abundance of anecdotal evidence of music being used in this way, such as the famous Maori “Haka” performed by New Zealand’s national rugby team to get into the right mindset before games. However, the psychological processes and mechanisms that explain the motivational power of music are poorly understood.

    “While the role of music in evoking emotional responses and its use for mood regulation have been a subject of considerable scientific interest, the question of how listening to music relates to changes in self-evaluative cognitions has rarely been discussed,” says Dr. Paul Elvers of the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics and one of the study’s authors. “This is surprising, given that self-evaluative cognitions and attitudes such as self-esteem, self-confidence and self-efficacy are considered to be sensitive to external stimuli such as music.”

    The research team investigated whether listening to motivational music can boost performance in a ball game, enhance self-evaluative cognition and/or lead to riskier behavior. The study divided 150 participants into three groups that performed a ball-throwing task from fixed distances and filled in questionnaires while listening to either participant-selected music, experimenter-selected music or no music at all. To assess risk-taking behavior, the participants were also allowed to choose the distances to the basket themselves. The participants received monetarily incentivized points for each successful trial.

    The data show that listening to music did not have any positive or negative impact on overall performance or on self-evaluative cognitions, trait self-esteem or sport-related anxiety. However, it did increase the sense of self-esteem in participants who were performing well and also increased risk-taking behavior — particularly in male participants and participants who could choose their own motivational music. Moreover, the researchers also found that those who made riskier choices earned higher monetary rewards.

    “The results suggest that psychological processes linked to motivation and emotion play an important role for understanding the functions and effects of music in sports and exercise,” says Dr. Elvers. “The gender differences in risk-taking behavior that we found in our study align with what previous studies have documented.”

    However, more research is required to fully understand the impact of motivational music on the intricate phenomena of self-enhancement, performance and risky behavior during sports and exercise.

    “We gathered evidence of the ability of music to increase risk-taking behavior, but more research is needed to improve the robustness of this finding. Additional research is also needed to address the potential mechanisms that may account for the finding. We believe that music’s ability to induce pleasure as well as its function with respect to self-enhancement serve as promising candidates for future investigations,” Dr. Elvers concludes.


  2. Study suggests mindful yoga can reduce risky behaviors in troubled youth

    December 18, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Cincinnati press release:

    For some young people, dealing with life stressors like exposure to violence and family disruption often means turning to negative, risky behaviors — yet little is known about what can intervene to stop this cycle.

    But one long-term study by the University of Cincinnati looks at the link between stressful life events and an increase in substance abuse, risky sexual behaviors and delinquency in a diverse population of 18- to 24-year-old youths. The research also sheds light on distinct coping strategies that can lead to more positive outcomes.

    As part of a 10-year study looking at risk-taking and decision-making — or the lack thereof — Jacinda Dariotis, UC public health researcher, spent 12 months focusing on early life stressors as a predictor of risky sexual behavior, substance abuse and delinquency for more than 125 at-risk youths. Surprisingly, she found a small number of the youths were already engaging in constructive coping behaviors on their own that will have positive outcomes later in life.

    But what about the majority of troubled youth who cope by engaging in negative, risky and dangerous behaviors?

    Results from the most recent segment of Dariotis’ study were presented at the American Public Health Association conference in Atlanta, under the title,”Stress coping strategies as mediators: Toward a better understanding of sexual, substance and delinquency-related risk-taking among transition-aged youth.”

    The study revealed that in spite of early life stressors, positive coping behaviors, either learned or self-generated, can actually have a protective effect.

    “We found that many of these youths who had endured stressful life events and otherwise would have fallen into the risky behavior trap could actually have positive outcomes later in life because they chose to join in prosocial physical activities, yoga or mindfulness meditation,” says Dariotis.

    Risky outlets

    During the study, Dariotis looked at the disconnect between the youths who had intended to have positive influences in their lives but continually found themselves engaged in behaviors that had negative outcomes. She found a link between stressful life events and increased risky unprotected sex, violence and substance abuse.

    “We took a holistic approach, looking at these issues from a social and biological perspective,” says Dariotis, also director of UC’s College of Education, Criminal Justice and Human Services Evaluation Services Center. “In addition to question-and-answer information, we collected urine samples for drug use confirmation and testosterone levels early in the study to see how hormones played out in negative behaviors.”

    According to Dariotis, testosterone can be influential in dominance and aggressive behaviors, but if directed through prosocial behaviors like sports, yoga or healthy competition it can have very positive outcomes.

    “If you are the star on your sports team you are succeeding,” says Dariotis. “You can also be competitive academically where you succeed by competing with your peers.”

    It’s not that testosterone itself is all bad but it depends on how it is channeled, she adds.

    The right track

    Before joining UC as an associate professor of research, Dariotis spent the last decade at Johns Hopkins University gathering most of the data that includes neuroimaging and weekly questioning for hundreds of youth from all walks of life.

    “I’m particularly interested in teaching at-risk youths to regulate their thoughts, processes and emotions,” says Dariotis. “The neuroimaging allows us to see what’s activated in one’s brain while at rest or performing tasks to help us understand the intersection between hormones, brain structure and activity.”

    Dariotis found that at-risk youth who voluntarily spend their time reading books, playing sports or engaged in avoidance coping behaviors were twice as likely to avoid risky sexual behaviors or substance abuse. An example of avoidance coping behaviors, she says, is not thinking about a bad event that had occurred and instead, thinking about what could be better.

    Dariotis found youths who were unable to develop positive coping strategies were much more likely to turn to greater risk-taking behaviors that included unprotected sex or sex for money, substance abuse, violence and crime.

    Saving time, money and lives

    Participating in weekly mindful yoga intervention programs as part of the current study taught the youths how to take control of their breathing and their emotions and helped them develop healthier long-term coping skills.

    “These findings highlight the importance of implementing positive coping strategies for at-risk youth particularly for reducing illicit drug use and risky sexual behavior,” says Dariotis. “Mindfulness-based yoga programs designed to improve the ability to cope are needed at earlier ages in schools to help vulnerable youths channel their skills more effectively.”

    Given the relative low cost of such programs and easy adaptations to different populations and settings, Dariotis says the return on investment may be substantial especially if they can reduce arrests, repeat offenses and other negative outcomes for risk-taking youth.


  3. Study suggests lack of sleep could cause mood disorders in teens

    December 14, 2017 by Ashley

    From the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology press release:

    Chronic sleep deprivation — which can involve staying up late, and waking up early for work or school — has become a way of life for both kids and adults, especially with the increasing use of phones and tablets late into the night. But this social jet lag poses some serious health and mental health risks: new research finds that for teenagers, even a short period of sleep restriction could, over the long-term, raise their risk for depression and addiction.

    University of Pittsburgh’s Peter Franzen and Erika Forbes invited 35 participants, aged 11.5-15 years, into a sleep lab for two nights. Half the participants slept for 10 hours, while the other half slept only four hours. A week later, they came back to the lab for another two nights and adopted the opposite sleep schedule from their initial visit.

    Each time they visited the lab, the participants underwent brain scans while playing a game that involved receiving monetary rewards of $10 and $1. At the end of each visit, the teens answered questions that measured their emotional functioning, as well as depression symptoms.

    The researchers found that sleep deprivation affected the putamen, an area of the brain that plays a role in goal-based movements and learning from rewards. When participants were sleep-deprived and the reward in the game they played was larger, the putamen was less responsive. In the rested condition, the brain region didn’t show any difference between high- and low-reward conditions.

    Franzen and Forbes also found connections between sleep restriction and mood: after a night of restricted sleep, the participants who experienced less activation in the putamen also reported more symptoms of depression. This is consistent with findings, from a large literature of studies on depression and reward circuitry, that depression is characterized by less activity in the brain’s reward system.

    The results suggest that sleep deprivation in the tween and teen years may interfere with how the brain processes rewards, which could disrupt mood and put a person at risk of depression, as well as risk-taking behavior and addiction.


  4. Study suggests high-stress childhoods blind adults to potential loss

    December 12, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Wisconsin-Madison press release:

    Adults who lived high-stress childhoods have trouble reading the signs that a loss or punishment is looming, leaving themselves in situations that risk avoidable health and financial problems and legal trouble.

    According to researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, this difficulty may be biological, stemming from an unhelpful lack of activity in the brain when a situation should be prompting heightened awareness. And that discovery may help train at-risk young people to be better at avoiding risk.

    “It’s not that people are overtly deciding to take these negative risks, or do things that might get them in trouble,” says Seth Pollak, a UW-Madison psychology professor who has studied kids and stress for decades. “It may very well be that their brains are not really processing the information that should tell them they are headed to a bad place, that this is not the right step to take.”

    Pollak and UW-Madison psychiatry Professor Rasmus Birn brought back to the lab more than 50 people — now ages 20 to 23 — who were participants in a study Pollak conducted about stress hormones when they were 8 years old. They were drawn equally from that study’s least-stressed and most-stressed kids. Those who dealt with chronic high stress as children experienced traumatic events like parents killed by gunfire or substance abuse, multiple foster home placements and severe maltreatment, according to Pollak.

    The researchers put the adults through a series of tasks — while in and out of brain-scanning functional magnetic resonance imagers (fMRI) — designed to stimulate the brain regions that weigh gain and loss, risk and reward.

    The high childhood stress group was less attentive to potential loss than the low childhood stress group, and more piqued by resulting losses. The results were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

    Among the most striking outcomes, Birn says, was watching the high-stress group work through a gambling scenario in which a token is hidden behind one of 10 squares. Some of the squares are colored red, others blue. The object is to choose the color of the square covering the token.

    “Most people if you see nine red squares, one blue square — and the token is randomly placed — you’re going to guess red,” he says. “And yet, in a lot of these individuals who experienced high childhood stress we saw, they’re betting on the one instead of the nine. And they’re betting against the odds again and again.”

    And they spent longer doing it, according to Pollak, agonizing over the decision before making a poor decision again.

    “It was our observation not that they couldn’t do math, but that they weren’t really attending to the right things,” he says. “We didn’t see people improving over time. You might say, ‘Well, they don’t get how it works.’ But the people with high-stress childhoods, even after many trials, they weren’t using negative feedback to change their behavior and improve.”

    In brain scans from the people who lived with high stress as children, Birn and Pollak could see a surprisingly low amount of activity in the brain region expected to light up when confronted by a potential loss.

    “And then, when they would lose, we’d see more activity than expected — an overreaction — in the part of the brain that responds to reward,” Pollak says, “which makes sense. If you didn’t catch the cue that you were likely to lose, you’re probably going to be pretty shocked when you don’t win.”

    The high-stress childhood group also reported undertaking more risky behaviors — smoking, not wearing a seatbelt in a car or texting while driving — on a regular basis than their low-stress counterparts.

    Interestingly, it was just the childhood stress level — not the level of stress in the participants’ adult lives — that was predictive of their ability to identify potential loss or avoid risky behavior.

    The researchers’ knowledge of their subjects’ childhood stress is unique. Typically, assessing the childhood of a group of adults requires relying on their recollections and spotty records.

    “But we knew these people when they were kids,” says Pollak. “We have a clinical assessment of their stress levels in childhood that was done at that time of their lives, while their parents sat in the waiting room. That’s powerful data.”

    The results are powerful, too, and have already drawn interest from child welfare authorities and family court judges often in the position of trying to change behavior by threatening or applying punishment.

    “So many of our behavioral interventions are predicated on the idea that people will understand there’s a sign they’re about to be punished,” Pollak says. “Maybe we need to rethink some of those things.”

    And maybe people can be taught to spot potential loss and risk. Understanding the brain mechanisms that contribute to repeated poor judgment could illuminate ways to prevent it.

    “What are they paying attention to? What associations from past experience are they able to remember and connect? Can we help them make better observations and predictions?” Pollak says. “Framing behavioral problems as a learning problem opens up new doors of what we can do to help people.”

    Next, the researchers plan to expand the scope of their brain scans and analyses.

    “Now that we have this finding, we can use it to guide us to look at specific networks in the brain that are active and functionally connected,” Birn says. “We may find that childhood stress reshapes the way communication happens across the brain.”


  5. Study examines health risks of energy drinks

    November 26, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Frontiers press release:

    A new review of current scientific knowledge on energy drinks finds their advertised short-term benefits can be outweighed by serious health risks — which include risk-seeking behavior, mental health problems, increased blood pressure, obesity and kidney damage. The study, published in Frontiers in Public Health, also highlights the worrying trend of mixing energy drinks with alcohol. The authors recommend restricted sales to children and adolescents and setting evidence-based caffeine limits.

    As energy drink consumption continues to grow worldwide, there is a need to thoroughly examine their advertised benefits, nutritional content and any negative effects on public health.

    “We summarize the consequences of energy drink consumption, which include heart, kidney, and dental problems, as well as risk-seeking behavior and poor mental health,” says Dr. Josiemer Mattei, Assistant Professor of Nutrition based at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston, USA, who published this study along with a team of graduate researchers.

    “The evidence suggests they are harmful to health and should be limited through more stringent regulation by restricting their sales to children and adolescents, as well as setting an evidence-based upper limit on the amount of caffeine.”

    Most energy drinks consist of similar ingredients — water, sugar, caffeine, certain vitamins, minerals and non-nutritive stimulants such as guarana, taurine and ginseng. Some can contain up to 100 mg caffeine per fluid ounce, eight times more than a regular coffee at 12 mg. A moderate daily caffeine intake of up to 400 mg is recommended for adults, but little research exists on tolerable levels for adolescents and children.

    “The energy drink industry has grown dramatically in the past 20 years, culminating in a nearly $10 billion per year industry in the United States. They are often marketed as a healthy beverage that people can adopt to improve their energy, stamina, athletic performance and concentration, but our review shows there are important health consequences, and little is known about many of their non-nutritive stimulants such as guarana and taurine,” says Dr. Mattei.

    The health risks associated with energy drinks are mostly attributed to their high sugar and caffeine levels. They range from risk-seeking behavior, such as substance misuse and aggression, mental health problems in the form of anxiety and stress, to increased blood pressure, obesity, kidney damage, fatigue, stomachaches and irritation.

    The review also highlights another worrying trend of mixing energy drinks with alcohol. Individuals who do this consume more alcohol than if they were drinking alcohol alone. It is thought energy drinks can mask the signs of alcohol inebriation, enabling an individual to consume more, increasing the likelihood of dehydration and alcohol poisoning.

    Dr. Mattei and her colleagues hope that by highlighting our current knowledge about the health consequences of energy drinks, policy and interventions can be put in place to reduce negative effects on public health. In addition, the review can be used to target research to fill the gaps in our knowledge.

    “Our review is limited because there are a small number of studies in this area and they primarily focus on healthy young adults, assessed at one point in time. Future research should explore the effects of the energy drink constituents we know less about, such as taurine, and consider long-term assessments across a broader range of the population to examine the effects of energy drink consumption over time,” she explains.

    “However, we conclude that there is currently enough evidence to suggest that the negative health consequences of drinking energy drinks outweigh any potential short-term benefits.”


  6. Study suggests smoking, binge drinking and unsafe tanning may be linked in men

    November 11, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Connecticut press release:

    Even though men use tanning beds at lower rates than women, men who tan tend to do it in riskier ways, according to a study by researchers at the University of Connecticut. The findings should help public health officials rethink how, and to whom, they’re targeting anti-tanning messages.

    Because the stereotypical tanning salon client is a young woman, almost all the research and health messaging on tanning has focused on that demographic. But the new research in press in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology found that one in three people who use tanning beds in the U.S. are male.

    Men who tan report using tanning beds with about the same frequency as women, but smoke and binge drink at higher rates than their female counterparts, and they also tend to treat tanning more like an addiction than women do, say the authors. A full 49 percent of men who used tanning beds fit a pattern of addictive behavior around tanning.

    “That was really surprising,” says lead author Sherry Pagoto, a clinical psychologist and director of the UConn Center for mHealth and Social Media. “If they tan with the same frequency as women, why would tanning in men be more addictive?”

    Pagoto and her colleagues conducted a national survey of 636 people who answered “yes” when asked whether they had ever used a tanning bed. They queried the participants about frequency of use, preferred locations to tan, how they felt about tanning, and why they did it.

    The differences between men and women were marked. Women preferred to tan in salons, and said they valued low cost, cleanliness, and convenience. Men who tanned preferred less regulated settings, such as gyms or private homes. They said they liked to tan to accentuate the appearance of their muscles, or as a reward after working out. They also reported smoking tobacco, binge drinking alcohol, and drinking soda significantly more often than women who tan.

    Men also answered “yes” when asked if they ever felt anxious if they weren’t able to tan, tanned to relieve stress, or spent money on tanning even when they couldn’t afford it. They agreed with statements such as “I’d like to quit but I keep going back to it.”

    There’s a population of men who tan and engage in other risky behaviors and are very unlike the young women that health educators assume are at risk of tanning bed health impacts, says Pagoto.

    Pagoto and her team are pursuing another study to delve more deeply into who tans, asking questions about sexual orientation, given that recent research has revealed that homosexual men are just as likely to use tanning beds as young women. The research should help health officials trying to warn the public of the very real connection between tanning beds and skin cancer, she says.

    Sun lamps and tanning beds are legal for adult use in all 50 states, even though the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) classifies them as a Class 1 carcinogen like tobacco, radon, and arsenic, and the use of tanning beds has been linked to melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.

    Most current marketing messaging is targeted to teen- and college-aged women, according to Pagoto. Men who tan are unlikely to relate to that type of message. Pagoto is now applying social media marketing principles to develop prevention messages that resonate with specific audience segments.

    “We’re also hoping to spread the message on college campuses, since the tanning industry heavily markets to college students,” she says.


  7. Study suggests willingness to take risks is a personality trait

    November 5, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Universität Basel press release:

    People differ in their willingness to take risks. An individual’s propensity for risk taking can also vary across domains. However, there is new evidence showing that there is also a general factor of individual risk preference, which remains stable over time — akin to the general Intelligence Quotient (IQ). Researchers from Switzerland and Germany report these findings based on over 1500 participants in the journals Science Advances and Nature Human Behaviour.

    Should I invest my money or leave it in my savings account? Have surgery or not? We make decisions like these knowing that they have consequences and involve risks. But what is the nature of the risk preference driving risk-related decisions? Does our risk preference depend on the context or is it largely consistent across situations? Both is true, according to findings from a large-scale study from researches of the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin and the University of Basel, with funding from the Swiss National Science Foundation.

    To assess the risk preferences of 1,507 adults aged between 20 and 36 years, they used three distinct approaches: Self-reports on hypothetical risk scenarios, experimental behavioral tests involving financial incentives as well as information on actual risky activities in everyday life. In total, participants completed 39 tests over the course of a day. To examine how stable the risk preference is over time, the researchers had 109 participants repeat the tests after six months. Previous studies on risk preference mostly used just one or only a few selected measurement instruments.

    Stable factor over time

    “Our findings indicate that risk-taking propensity has a psychometric structure similar to that of psychological personality characteristics. Like the general factor of intelligence, there is also a general factor of risk preference,” says Dr. Renato Frey from the University of Basel and the Max Planck Institute for Human Development. “In other words, your willingness to take risks may vary across different areas of your life, but it will always be affected by the underlying general factor of risk preference.” Backing up this idea, the study’s findings show that individuals’ general factor of risk preference remains stable over time.

    Another finding of this study is that the hypothetical scenarios and the reports on actual risk-taking behavior both painted a similar picture of an individual’s risk preference. However, a rather different picture emerged from the experimental behavior tests. A detailed analysis of these inconsistencies revealed that for different behavior test participants used different decision-making strategies. These depended on the type of behavioral task — whether it presented risk in a context of a game, for example, or in a more abstract form. “These results show that behavioral tests, which tend to be the preferred approach of economists, often give an inconsistent picture of people’s risk preferences that is difficult to explain with unified theories of risk behavior,” says Prof. Dr. Jörg Rieskamp from the University of Basel.

    A better understanding of risk behavior

    These results are important both methodologically as well as theoretically: “Our work is a wake-up call for researchers, who need to think twice about the various measurement traditions. In particular, there needs to be a better understanding of what exactly the behavioral tasks measure. It seems clear that they don’t assess risk preference across situations,” says Prof. Dr. Ralph Hertwig from the Max Planck Institute for Human Development. “But our finding of a general factor of risk preference — based on self-reports and frequency measures of actual risky activities — suggests that risk preference is a personality characteristic in its own right. This insight will make it possible to examine the biological underpinnings of risk preference in future studies.”


  8. Study looks at how disliked classes affect incidence of college student cheating

    October 13, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Ohio State University press release:

    One of the tactics that discourages student cheating may not work as well in courses that college students particularly dislike, a new study has found.

    Previous research suggests instructors who emphasize mastering the content in their classes encounter less student cheating than those who push students to get good grades.

    But this new study found emphasizing mastery isn’t related as strongly to lower rates of cheating in classes that students list as their most disliked. Students in disliked classes were equally as likely to cheat, regardless of whether the instructors emphasized mastery or good grades.

    The factor that best predicted whether a student would cheat in a disliked class was a personality trait: a high need for sensation, said Eric Anderman, co-author of the study and professor of educational psychology at The Ohio State University.

    People with a high need for sensation are risk-takers, Anderman said.

    “If you enjoy taking risks, and you don’t like the class, you may think ‘why not cheat.’ You don’t feel you have as much to lose,” he said.

    Anderman conducted the study with Sungjun Won, a graduate student in educational psychology at Ohio State. It appears online in the journal Ethics & Behavior and will be published in a future print edition.

    The study is the first to look at how academic misconduct might differ in classes that students particularly dislike.

    “You could understand why students might be less motivated in classes they don’t like and that could affect whether they were willing to cheat,” Anderman said.

    The researchers surveyed 409 students from two large research universities in different parts of the country.

    The students were asked to answer questions about the class in college that they liked the least.

    Participants were asked if they took part in any of 22 cheating behaviors in that class, including plagiarism and copying test answers from another student. The survey also asked students their beliefs about the ethics of cheating, their perceptions of how much the instructor emphasized mastery and test scores, and a variety of demographic questions, as well as a measure of sensation-seeking.

    A majority of the students (57 percent) reported a math or science course as their most disliked. Large classes were not popular: Nearly half (45 percent) said their least favorite class had more than 50 students enrolled, while two-thirds (65 percent) said the course they disliked was required for their major.

    The most interesting finding was that an emphasis on mastery or on test scores did not predict cheating in disliked classes, Anderman said.

    In 20 years of research on cheating, Anderman said he and his colleagues have consistently found that students cheated less — and believed cheating was less acceptable — in classes where the goals were intrinsic: learning and mastering the content. They were more likely to cheat in classes where they felt the emphasis was on extrinsic goals, such as successful test-taking and getting good grades.

    This study was different, Anderman said.

    In classes that emphasized mastery, some students still believed cheating was wrong, even in their most-disliked class. But when classes are disliked, the new findings suggest a focus on mastery no longer directly protects against cheating behaviors. Nevertheless, there is still a positive relation between actual cheating and the belief that cheating is morally acceptable in those classes.

    “When you have students who are risk-takers in classes that they dislike, the benefits of a class that emphasizes learning over grades seems to disappear,” he said.

    But Anderman noted that this study reinforced results from earlier studies that refute many of the common beliefs about student cheating.

    “All of the things that people think are linked to cheating don’t really matter,” he said.

    “We examined gender, age, the size of classes, whether it was a required class, whether it was graded on a curve — and none of those were related to cheating once you took into account the need for sensation in this study,” he said. “And in other studies, the classroom goals were also important.”

    The good news is that the factors that cause cheating are controllable in some measure, Anderman said. Classes can be designed to emphasize mastery and interventions could be developed to help risk-taking students.

    “We can find ways to help minimize cheating,” he said.


  9. Study suggests women just as willing to take risks as men

    October 11, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Exeter press release:

    Women can be just as risk-taking as men — or even more so — when the conventional macho measures of daring — such as betting vast sums on a football game — are replaced by less stereotypical criteria, according to new research led by the University of Exeter.

    Traditional barometers of high risk behaviour — such as betting a day’s wages at a high stakes poker game or riding a motorcycle without a helmet — are often stereotypically masculine. A team of psychologists — Dr Thekla Morgenroth and Professor Michelle Ryan from the University of Exeter and Professor Cordelia Fine and Anna Genat from the University of Melbourne -devised a new measure of risk-taking including activities that women might more typically pursue such as going horseback riding or making risky purchases online.

    They found that research and surveys about risk behaviour has reinforced cultural assumptions about who takes risks. Assessments of heroism, daring or audacity often focus on traditionally masculine behaviour such as gambling or skydiving. When this bias is addressed, women and men rate themselves as equally likely to take risks.

    The findings of the study, published in the journal of Social Psychological and Personality Science, raises fresh questions about whether risk-taking is overwhelmingly a masculine personality trait, and whether women are as risk averse as previously suggested.

    Dr Thekla Morgenroth, post-doctoral Research Fellow at the University of Exeter, and lead author of the paper said: “When people imagine a risk-taker, they might picture someone risking their fortune at a high-stakes poker game, an ambitious CEO, or someone crossing the Grand Canyon on a tightrope — but chances are that the person they picture will be a man. In other words, in our culture, risk is strongly associated with masculinity — and our research shows that this also biases how scientists measure risk.”

    Dr Morgenroth went on to say:

    “Traditional measures of risk-taking tend to overlook the fact that women take many risks all the time — they go horseback riding, they challenge sexism, they are more likely to donate their kidneys to family members. In our research, we show that when you ask men and women how likely they are to take more feminine risks, the gender difference in risk-taking suddenly disappears or even reverses with women reporting slightly higher levels of risk-taking. We’ve been overlooking female risk-taking because our measures have been biased.”

    Co-author Professor Cordelia Fine, whose book Testosterone Rex: Unmaking the myths of our gendered minds, was this week awarded the Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize 2017, added:

    “Even when we matched the level of physical or financial risk, we found that the choice of risky activity — masculine, or more neutral or feminine — makes a difference to the conclusion about which gender is more risk-taking.”

    The academics surveyed a total of 238 people in two studies using traditional measures of risk and new questions which included more activities which were rated as feminine by a group of 99 men and women.

    When stereotypically masculine criteria such as gambling at a casino or going white-water rafting were used, men rated themselves as more likely to engage in risk-taking. However, when new behaviour was included, such as taking a cheerleading class or cooking an impressive but difficult meal for a dinner party, women rated themselves as equally or more likely to take risks.

    Co-author Prof Michelle Ryan noted: “Understanding the nature of gender differences in risk taking is particularly important as the assumption that women are risk averse is often used to justify ongoing gender inequality — such as the gender pay gap and women’s under-representation in politics and leadership.”


  10. Study suggests gender differences in financial risk tolerance linked to different response to income uncertainty

    September 30, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Missouri-Columbia press release:

    Prior research has long shown that women are, on average, less risk tolerant in their financial decisions than men. This is a concern as investors with low levels of risk tolerance might have greater difficulty reaching their financial goals and building adequate retirement wealth because they are unlikely to invest in stocks. Now, a researcher from the University of Missouri has found that men and women do not think about investment risks differently. Instead, income uncertainty affects men and women differently, which leads to differences in risk tolerance.

    “Risk tolerance is one of the most important factors that contributes to wealth accumulation and retirement,” said Rui Yao, an associate professor of personal financial planning in the MU College of Health and Environmental Sciences. “It is important to understand what causes women to be less risk tolerant so that financial planners can better serve their needs as women, on average, live longer than men and often need more retirement savings.”

    For her study, Yao examined data from the Survey of Consumer Finances. The survey is conducted every three years and supported by the Federal Reserve and U.S. Department of the Treasury. By analyzing data from nearly 2,250 unmarried American individuals, Yao found that women are more likely to have uncertain incomes from year to year. Life events such as child birth, child care and care-giving often contribute to women’s income uncertainty.

    Yao also found that, on average, women had lower net worth than men. This may have resulted, in part, from women keeping funds in accounts with low returns to buffer the risk of negative income shocks.

    One-quarter of women and one-fifth of men in the sample reported using a financial planner for saving and investment decisions, but the advice given to women may not be in their best interest. Yao suggests that financial planners need to understand the differences in income uncertainty and net worth between men and women and the way in which these differences relate to risk tolerance.

    “Simply telling women to be more risk tolerant is ineffective,” Yao said. “In fact, it might encourage women to take more financial risks than they can tolerate, which could lead to more problems in the future. The difference in investment advice received by men and women requires further investigation, particularly given the new fiduciary standards for financial advisors.”

    Yao’s advice to women is to plan for income uncertainty by creating a financial strategy that fits their needs. For example, when anticipating child-rearing or care-giving periods in the near future, women can and should be more conservative in their investing. When those periods are coming to an end, women should work with their financial planners to make riskier investments.