Some people are natural risk takers, others are not. Natural risk-takers possess personalities which are a result of both genes, environment, and experience. Even though they tend to put themselves in danger sometimes, they highlight a human trait which is essential to survival as a species.
Hominids, including humans, evolved slowly over a few million years in a world filled with life-or-death risks, including large predators which hunted them. One of defenses mechanisms used by large primates, including the forerunners of humans, was hunting and living in groups. This provided for protection and a number of other advantages, which is the reason, at least in part, why large primates evolved to be social animals. We are still today.
Our primitive ancestors survived by their wits and cooperation within the group. Those with traits which contributed to group survival were passed on to the next generation, presumably because those without those traits failed to survive. The misfortune of being ousted from the group due to unacceptable behavior or lack of status meant death.
Anything that threatened having a place within the community was felt as a risk or threat. That primal threat, and its resultant fear, underlies the human trait of wanting to fit in with the others around them. Behaviors, looks, or whatever that resulted in not fitting in or being different from the community is perceived, consciously or unconsciously, as a risk.
“Ostracism appears to occur in all social animals that have been observed in nature,” says Kip Williams, a professor of psychological sciences at Purdue who has studied ostracism. “To my knowledge, in the animal kingdom, ostracism is not only a form of social death, it also results in death. The animal unable to protect itself against predators, cannot survive.”
Although risk-taking has its negative aspects and can prove fatal, it is a positive force as well. If our primitive ancestors had never taken risks, humans would still be swinging in the trees or extinct. Without curiosity and the drive to have new experiences, humanity would have stagnated with little impetus for discovery or advancements. No doubt certain primitive progenitors did take successful risks, which must have increased the individual’s status within the community. So the human traits that existed in prehistory still exist in human today. Not just the fear of ostracism or the propensity to be part of a group, but also curiosity and need for new experiences.
In 2021 most of us do not live in an environment where we are required to fend off predators bigger than we are on a daily basis. We don’t have to kill for food or starve. But we still to face risks every day at every stage of development.
Babies and toddlers don’t have a clue about what is a risky and what isn’t. It is up to the parents and other adults around them to teach them. Babies are all about self, but they learn very quickly how to signal their discomforts and needs, and they learn to fear things that can hurt them. They also don’t worry about hurting anyone’s feelings.
By the time children are ready for grade school, most have a limited grasp of action and consequence. They know if you place your hand on something hot, you get burned and it hurts, but they don’t have a lot of experience knowing what is and isn’t hot. Children are always testing their limits ‒ that is how they learn ‒ and most parents, by the beginning grammar school, know which of their offspring are risk-takers by nature.
Teenagers have reached the point of mental maturity to generally understand action and reaction, both mental and physical. They also have the capacity to understand how to make choices. However, until the early twenties ‒ some psychologists say 25 ‒ the prefrontal and frontal cortex are not fully formed. These parts of the brain “house executive functions such as judgment and decision making. Risky behavior, thrill seeking and impulsivity….are symptoms of the developing adolescent brain.” harbormentalhealth.com/adolescent-risk-taking-Dr. Frances Jensen in The Teenage Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Guide to Raising Adolescents and Young Adults.
At any age, risk taking is likely to occur when the short-term positive consequences reduces the negative emotions they are feeling, which run high in teenagers, and increases physical pleasure. Thus teenagers are drawn to risks that promise:
● A quick positive response that makes them feel good and forget the unpleasant emotions;
● Satisfaction of an internal need, such as self-esteem; and
● Approval from their friends and peer group.
Those in the 13-20+ age group are undergoing significant developmental changes, mental and physical, which affect the way they perceive themselves and the world. They also lack the experience to identify all the negative consequences of an action, tend to underestimate the number and severity of the bad results, and most of the time react spontaneously without bothering to think at all about the results.
By the time people reach adulthood their brains should be developed enough to recognize risks, be able to analyze the pros and cons of certain behaviors, and have enough self-discipline to control urges and actions. Although most Western cultures recognize young people as adults at the age of 18 [it does vary] most people have not reached complete brain development at that point.
For anyone over the age of 20, the key is making the effort to think about the positive and negatives consequences of a decision and gather the necessary information from reliable sources before making decisions. i.e. making informed decisions.
FEAR OF TAKING RISKS
People today have pretty much the same basic fears as primitive man. We all start out as newborns and have to learn as we grow and develop and learn about fear.
Man on Glass Bridge – Tianmen Mt., China This is why he’s afraid – He is on this glass walkway ▼
Image Source: youtube.com/watch ▼ Image Source: boredpanda.com/glass-bridge-tianmen
Fear, conscious or unconscious, is important because it is the built-in emotion that protects humans from negative events. It drives and moderates behavior by directing our attention to potential risks. While physical fear is the most obvious, it also applies to social and personal situations, like the fear of having another broken heart. The basic role of fear is to protect us, but it can also get in the way of achieving your goals or doing normal everyday things like taking an elevator.
Another dilemma is distinguishing rational fear‒ “Don’t touch the hot frying pan.”‒ from irrational fear ‒ “If I leave the house, I’ll be kidnapped by aliens.” ‒ and everything in between such as another broken heart. To the person experiencing the fear, it is rational and real.
Some psychologists and researchers believe we live in a culture of fear. As a society, we have actually become more risk-adverse. The fact is, facing things that make us uncomfortable offers a cluster of psychological benefits that has been coined as “the risk-taker’s advantage.” psychology.iresearchnet.com/
According to Theo Tsaousides Ph.D., writing for Psychology Today, “Being successful relies to a large extent on knowing how to leverage fear.” To do that, you must understand what you are afraid of, then evaluate the pros and cons. Imagine what you can do to deal with the fear and what you can accomplish if you take the chance. That requires us to recognize and weigh the outcomes, in relation to ourselves and other.
Certain fears are primal, but most are learned behavior, either because parents and/or adults teaching us or from experience.
Fear, like all other emotions, is basically information. It offers us knowledge and understanding ‒ if we choose to accept it. The Scream - 1893 By Edvard Munch
Image source: psychologytoday.com/
● Fear of Mutilation ‒ “the fear of losing any part of our precious bodily structure; the thought of having our body's boundaries invaded, or of losing the integrity of any organ, body part, or natural function.”
● Fear of Loss of Autonomy ‒ “the fear of being immobilized, paralyzed, restricted, enveloped, overwhelmed, entrapped, imprisoned, smothered, or otherwise controlled by circumstances beyond our control.” Physical and social.
● Fear of Separation ‒ Humans have a need for love and belonging. “The fear of abandonment, rejection, and loss of connectedness; of becoming a non-person ‒ not wanted, respected, or valued by anyone else.” Being exorcised from the group or losing acceptance or approval is a fear of separation.
● Fear of Ego-death ‒ “the fear of humiliation, shame, or any other mechanism of profound self-disapproval that threatens the loss of integrity of the self; the fear of the shattering or disintegration of one's constructed sense of lovability, capability, and worthiness.” fastcompany.com/your-brain-wired-take-risks
Understanding that every fear we have reverts back to one of the primal fears, we can understand and assess the situation and deal with it. Keep in mind that only the first two fears deal with the physical… being killed and suffering severe injury. Three of the basic fears are social and/or psychological.
This information, along with the non-primal concern about how your action can affect others, gives a person the tools to examine the worst consequences of speaking in public, going up in an elevator, jumping out of an airplane, or whatever. Then the individual can decide if the rewards are greater than the potential losses. Or they can decide they simply don’t care… which is still an informed decision albeit a poor choice.
Benefits of Risk Taking
Humans also have an internal curiosity, a needs to explore and experience new feelings. They get bored. In making an assessment of risk, keep in mind that certain types of risks can be beneficial. Try to imagine the possibility of success, but be reasonable in your expectations and don’t downplay risks.
● Unforeseen opportunities may arise
● Build confidence and develop new skills
● Develop sense of pride and accomplishment
● Learn things you might not otherwise
● The chance to actively pursue success
● Spurs creativity
● Opportunity to create change in your life
● Develop emotional resilience
● Feel more engaged and happy
Risk-taking can result in negative consequences, but taken in small amounts at lower risk levels, it is beneficial for your brain and mental health. Novel experiences can help to ward off sadness, depression and reinvigorate a stale relationship.
What keeps people down is the fear of failing. Unknowingly, some may adopt the mantra, “If you don’t do anything, you can’t fail.” That is not a good reason for never trying anything. You can’t live your life encased in bubble wrap for protection. You have to try new things and make mistakes. It’s completely acceptable to fail as long as you are taking smart risks. Try, make mistakes, learn from mistake and don’t do it again.
THERE’S ALWAYS ONE RISK-TAKER IN THE CROWD
After all, if humans weren’t a risk-taking species, Homo sapiens, who originated in East Africa, could not have spread over the entire globe in 100,000 years. Just as with most other character traits, tests have determines that a risk-taking character style is a mix of genes, biology, culture, and experience.
Predominant Kinds of Risks
The risky activities of our century are many, but currently the articles and studies by psychologists seem to focus on these risks:
● Financial, such as gambling or investing in the stock
● Excessive Alcohol
● Unprotected sex
● Unsafe driving, including talking and texting on cell phones and drunk driving
● Traveling in unsafe places
● Extreme sports
Risk-taking, whether it be physical, social, or psychological, effects us psychologically. Major risks lead to a quick release of adrenaline and dopamine, which engender intense feelings of pleasure.
The impact of these chemicals is a powerful high which can become addictive, particularly in those who are unhappy, sad, or depressed. Over time, the individual may need bigger risks
to get the same rush. Image Credit: Illustration by Liz Meyer
Image Source: fastcompany.com/brain-wired-take-risks
According to studies performed by Vanderbilt University in Nashville and Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, dare devils and adrenaline junkies appear to have fewer dopamine-inhibiting receptors in the brain; i.e. their brains are more saturated with this chemical, thus more inclined to take risks. In addition, David Ropeik, a Harvard instructor and author, says there is some consensus among psychologists and researchers, that certain brains are inherently better wired for risk taking.
● Thalamus: The AssessorIn any given situation, the thalamus takes in all the information, then sends it to yhe amygdala.
● Amygdala: The Gut Reactor
In a few milliseconds, the amygdala, responsible for emotional responses, reacts to the situation before the cortex, responsible for decision making, even receives the news.
● Cortex: The Reasoner
Around 22 milliseconds after you’ve registered the situation, the cortex starts reasoning. The cortex breaks it down and sends signals to other regions of the brain to determine a solution.
● Ventral Striatum:
People who show increased activation in the ventral-striatal, which is involved in emotional responses, tend to be more willing to take risks.
● Insula: The Soft-Stepper
People who show an increased activation in the insula region of the brain, associated with cognitive reasoning, tend to make more conservative decisions, according to the same study.
But there are other factors than how the brain sends messages to its different parts. Remember the propensity to be a risk-taker includes possess personalities which are a result of both genes, environment, and experience.
● Environmental Influences
Scientists know that environment contributes to sensation-seeking traits, but not so much the surroundings of the home as the exterior which consists of friends and exposure to potential behavioral risks.
Genetic background plays also plays a role. Molecular genetics has made it possible to identify major genes influencing personality and forms of psychopathology. Scientists have found an association between novelty-seeking [a trait very highly correlated with impulsive sensation-seeking] and a gene that codes for a class of dopamine receptor; the dopamine receptor-4 (DRD4).
Dopamine is an important brain neurotransmitter, active in pathways related to the brain's intrinsic reward and pleasure centers. It responds to stress, and enables people not only to see rewards but to take action to move toward them.
Genes also influence two other personality traits associated with risk-taking which are aggression , agreeableness, and sociability, the main components of extroversion.
The various levels of chemical in the brain contribute the most to this behavior, or lack of it, and not just adrenaline and dopamine.
Testosterone levels correlate with the tendency to overcome psychological inhibitions associated with drinking, drugs, unprotected sex and antisocial behavior. This hormone is also associated with normal traits such as dominance, sociability, and activity. Primarily this hormone is thought of in relation to men but women also have testosterone, only less of it.
Another biological correlate of sensation-seeking is the enzyme monoamine oxidase (MAO) Type B, active in the brain. Monoamine oxidase functions as a regulator, keeping neurotransmitters in balance. It could also contribute to the gender and age differences in sensation-seeking and risk-taking. The enzyme is low in high-sensation-seekers, implying a lack of regulation. MAO levels are known to be higher in women than in men, and the levels rise in both men and women with age.
The bottom line is that good decision making can balance risk-taking so outcomes are beneficial experiences unlikely to do harm. “There is a saying that good decisions are a consequence of experience and experience is a consequence of bad decisions.” In other words, you make a mistake, you learn, and the next time you make a better choice. https://agileleanlife.com/stupid-decisions/you learn
Just about everything we do and say is a choice. Most choices are made unconsciously and are low risk, but there is always some level of risk involved. You could choke drinking a glass of milk. Every time you drive your car you could be in an auto accident. But we do these things because the risk is low and the payoff is positive. We usually don’t think consciously about those small decisions. Our brains act on automatic based on prior decisions and experiences.
Start Making Smarter Decisions
You can only start making better decisions where you are right now, not somewhere in the past or future.
The sum of your past decisions is where you are today. All those things that make you as a person over which you had no control ‒ such as your ethnic group, the color of your eyes, where you grew up, having a low or high IQ, etc. ‒ and the sum of your past decisions make up your experiences. Together they are who you are. Start now and your smart decisions will accumulate and influence your life for the better.
Poor Decisions Affect Your Future
Significant decisions most often deal with stepping outside your comfort zone or a major change in your life. Safety first. Protecting the downsides. Never go too far from the learning zone to the panic zone. The bigger the choice, the more calculation it requires. Paying attention to your decisions is absolutely a big part of a superior life strategy.
● Know yourself, your strengths and limitations, your comfort zones.
● Know your short- and long-term goals.
● Start by thinking about the decision.
● Gather information. What do you really know about the risks and consequences? Be sure what you believe is not just hearsay.
● Evaluate the positives and negatives. Be careful not to underestimate negative outcomes, and not to overestimate the positive outcomes.
● Ask yourself if the positive consequences outweigh the potential negative consequences. Will the risk justify the reward? What could go wrong?
● Are the things that could go wrong out of your control?
● Are the rewards short lived? Will the adrenaline rush really change anything? Does it move you towards your goals?
● When accidents happen react quickly and wisely.
● When making decisions that you know are significant, always do an evaluation of where your choices are leading you.
Decisions May Depend On How The Risk Is Framed
Obviously, asking someone what they would do under certain circumstances, without the reality ‒ i.e. Without the pressure and with time to think ‒ does not necessarily reflect how they would react when faced with the actual situation. Still, the following experiment teaches something about the framing of the risk.
“One group of participants was willing to implement a risky health policy involving a vaccination plan when they were told only that the vaccination plan would likely ‘save the lives of 600 people’ in a particular town (population = 1,000). A second group, in contract, was unwilling to implement the same policy when they were told that ‘400 people might die’ if the plan were implemented. Thus, people made different choices even though the choices were formally identical.” psychology.iresearchnet.com/social-psychology/decision-making/risk-taking/
STUPID DECISIONS CAN RUIN YOUR LIFE IN A INSTANT
Stupid decisions have nothing to do with failure and learning. Stupid decisions result from not thinking through the choices. All people make mistakes; make them in a controlled, manageable and risk-reward justifiable way.
According to Author Blaz Kos, writing for agileleanlife.com, these are a few of the stupid decisions people make:
● Jumping into the water without knowing how deep it is
● Not wearing a safety belt
● Dangerously driving any kind of vehicle, like speeding and so on
● Engaging in a physical fight (if you aren’t really protecting yourself)
● Sleeping with a prostitute or your best friend’s wife
● Having unprotected sex
● Cheating on taxes or breaking the law in any other kind of way
● Taking on a huge debt just to enjoy a lavish lifestyle
● Travelling to a country with dangerous diseases or war zones
● Marrying too soon
● Exposing yourself in an investment you don’t understand
● Quitting your job without having a strategy of what you will do next
●Cheating on your exams
● Having somebody else write your diploma thesis or copying it from somebody else
● Stealing at your job or cheating at your company in any other way
● Getting into business with people you don’t know
NEVER SAY “I HAD NO CHOICE”
That is a copout. There is always a choice.