Are You Harboring an Inner Daredevil?

Libby Kane
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why you take risksAre you a risk-taker?

That isn’t a yes or no question. In fact, the most accurate answer for most of us is probably “it depends on the situation.”

The Wall Street Journal reports that a series of research studies show that people who are comfortable with risks in one situation may not be in another. Previous research has always found that women are more risk-averse with financial decisions than men, but new methodology could indicate that men are simply more used to taking financial chances—not necessarily more inclined to, initially.

Instead of risk-aversion being “inborn and unchanging” as previously believed, some studies indicate that a person’s preferred level of risk depends on the situation. Factors that influence your tolerance for risk include:

How well you know your surroundings. People tend to overestimate the chances that something will go wrong. As they get to know the situation better, they worry less, leading them to take more risk.

Your environment. If you’re comfortable in a space, you’re more likely to push the boundaries. (The Journal describes a decidedly risk-averse woman who liked the ambiance of a tattoo parlor so much that she decided to get some ink of her own.)

Strong emotions. One clear example of how emotions affect risk-taking is the “culture of honor,” which leads men to take more risks when they feel their masculinity is threatened.

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Researchers also found an interesting point on the link between gender and risk-taking: Women are actually more inclined than men to take risks when it comes to social risks—things like wearing different clothes or moving to a new town.

So it looks like the question, after all, isn’t “Are you a risk-taker?” It’s “When are you a risk-taker?”