What Is the Psychology of Risk Taking?
Truth be told, society loves the risk taker. The person who chooses to defy the odds, make a decision that seems contrary to what is in their best interest. It is what fuels the passions inside many of us.
We see risk-taking in a number of areas of life. There are risk takers in the business world, in sports, in the military, and even at the casino. It is the person who is asked “Well, do you feel lucky?” Who then answers, “you bet I do!”
We All Like to Gamble
When we speak of risk-taking in gambling, we are often talking about a person who will bet it all when it seems that the odds are against them. The person who is holding two 10s, but decides to go all in on the pot, believing that they can bluff their way to a big victory.
It is truly an amazing thing that drives so many of us. We wonder how it is that someone could think this way, such as the mentality of a gambler. Why would this person take such a risk when losing could be absolutely devastating? It might be crippling to their life in more ways than are imaginable. So why did they do it?
We Take Risks All the Time
When we look at the gambler, we often look at this person with a bit of judgment. Why would a person who is losing on every bet they are placing continue to make wagers? We shake our heads in disbelief, thinking that this person is really stupid.
The reality is that all of us take risks this way. In fact, some of us make some extremely bad decisions. For example, there are numerous people out there who know the risk of getting cancer by taking certain substances, but continue to do so. They get that the long-term effects, maybe even the short-term ones could lead to death, but they do not care. They want to do what they enjoy doing, so they do it.
It All Makes Sense
That is what drives us all. We become addicted to the things that make us feel good. It does matter whether it is a controlled substance, a dangerous adventure, or taking a risk of going out on a blind date. There is a certain adrenaline rush that comes with taking these kinds of risks.
Studies have found that it is the adrenaline rush that is at the heart of the matter. We have become adrenaline addicts. We do not look at what the long-term effects can be or if there even are long-term effects. Instead, we are driven by the moment, seeking those intense feelings of pleasure.
How Do We Stop It?
It is quite a rush to have adrenaline surges. The excitement, the glamour, the intensity. All of these things drive us and they are incredibly exciting. They are also quite nerve-racking, and it would seem sensible that we would get that there is just as much downside to these risks as there are benefits.
The problem is that the benefits can often outweigh the feelings of dread. In fact, psychologists have found that risk-taking is actually beneficial for you. Not only does it inspire you and motivate you, but there are some benefits to your overall mental health by having small doses of risk-taking.
This is why some people who bungee jump or skydive are actually far healthier mentally that a person who takes very few risks at all. They are doing something they enjoy and this makes them happier, even if there is a substantial risk involved.
When the Risk Pays Off
What complicates matters is when the risk pays off. The person who is literally in a lot of trouble if they wager this $1000 and lose because it will cost them their home, their family, maybe even their life, but they have to win. Not winning is nearly as bad as losing that $1000 so they have to take the risk. Then, they win.
The elation in that moment is overwhelming, probably like nothing that you have ever experienced. They went from a moment of absolute desperation to an incredible amount of elation when they won and that will continue to inspire them to keep taking risks.
Our minds can be tricky in this way. We will quickly rationalize that no matter how foolish or dangerous the risk was, we were right to do it. After all, we won. What better support for doing something so dangerous than when the outcome is so successful?
This is the real danger involved with risk-taking. When the risk pays dividends, it will create an addiction. We will keep chasing after greater risks looking for that incredible reward and, because we were already rewarded once, we will keep doing it.
This is like a junkie. The first time they try heroin or cocaine is absolutely spectacular, but every experience after that is a little less exciting. Do they quit taking it because the high is not as good? No, in fact they will try more and use more often because they feel they can still get that ultimate high.
This could wind up being the case for the risk taker. They will keep seeking after that same level of excitement and elation they had before. The problem is they may never reach it so they will keep trying riskier behaviors. This is when the danger really begins. The question is, can they be stopped before they go too far?