What Causes Individuals to Take Part in Risky Behaviors?
It is not a secret that getting behind the wheel after drinking is very dangerous. Knowing the potential risks of injury and even death, there are still individuals who choose to participate in this behavior. Why? If people know something is a bad idea, why do they do it anyway despite the potential for injury, loss, or death? This answer is complicated and deals a lot with how the human brain works as well as how individuals react to others around them.
The California Institute of Technology recently completed a study that suggests that risky behavior may be contagious. During this study, researchers observed 24 volunteers who participated in three different trials. The first was a “self” trial where participants chose between taking a $10 payout or gambling to potentially receive a higher payout, the second saw participants observing peers taking risks, and the third asked participants to predict whether someone would or would not take a risk.
During the study, researchers found that volunteers were more likely to take a gamble to receive a higher reward when they observed other volunteers taking that risk. Researchers called this the “contagion effect.” According to the researchers, observing risky behavior makes an individual either more likely to take risks or less likely to take risks. Magnetic resonance imaging was used during the experiment to look for indicators in the brain for risk-taking behavior in the volunteers.
While using the magnetic resonance imaging, researchers noted that those who partook in risky behaviors or observed others using risky behaviors experienced a specific portion of their brain having higher levels of activity. This additional activity was not present when the volunteers were simply making predictions about whether or not someone would partake in risky behavior. This study ultimately helps to explain why individuals who seek others taking risks, such as drinking and driving, are more likely to do so.
In addition to risky behavior being a part of how the human brain works, there is also some evidence that risky behavior can be linked to how we interact with individuals around us. Studies suggest that those who are considered “risk takers” often surround themselves with other individuals who are also “risk takers.” Observing the risky behavior of others, as suggested in the previously mentioned study, brings out the risky behavior in the individual, which in turn brings out the risky behaviors in those around them.
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