Stress more likely to make men gamble or take risksJuly 1st, 2009 - 3:31 pm ICT by IANS
Washington, July 1 (IANS) Stressed men are more likely to gamble, smoke, have unsafe sex or consume illegal drugs. Conversely, stressed women moderate their behaviour and are less likely to indulge in risky choices, says a new study.
“Evolutionarily speaking, it’s perhaps more beneficial for men to be aggressive in stressful, high-arousal situations when risk and reward are involved,” said gerontologist Nichole Lighthall.
“Applied to financial risk taking, it’s akin to competition for territory or other valuable resources,” adds Lighthall, of the University of Southern California Davis (USCD) School of Gerontology, who led the study.
Researchers asked participants to play a game called the Balloon Analogue Risk Task in which inflating a balloon earns money (five cents per pump). Participants were told that they could cash out their earnings by clicking a “Collect $$$” button at any point in the game.
However, the balloon would explode if it was inflated beyond its randomly determined breakpoint. All winnings for exploded balloons would be lost.
“One valuable aspect of the [balloon task] is its predictive validity for real-world impulsivity,” Lighthall explained. “Some risk taking was necessary to make gains, but excessive risk was associated with diminishing returns. If you always clicked and never cashed out, you would lose every time.”
The balloon task has been previously used to assess tolerance for risky behaviour among inner-city adolescents and substance abusers, among others.
“Obviously, there are situations in the real world where risky behaviour would not be beneficial,” Lighthall said. “Sometimes being conservative, thoughtful and taking it slow are good things.”
In the control group, men and women displayed statistically similar levels of risk taking, inflating the balloon about 40 times on average, said a USCD release.
However, women in the stressed group only inflated the balloon an average of 32 times - more than 30 percent less often than their stressed male counterparts, who inflated the balloon an average of 48 times.
These findings were published on Wednesday in PLoS One.
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