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Not All Risks Are Created Equal

Nov 16, 2016     Email"> PrintText Size

Risks of different types have been a driving force for human evolution. LI Shu's group from the Key Laboratory of Behavioral Sciences of the Institute of Psychology of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Prof. WANG Xiaotian from the University of South Dakota, and collaborators explored the genetic and environmental influences on human risk taking in different task domains. They used the twin research paradigm and meta analysis method to support the field of risk-taking propensity.

In order to develop a valid tool for measuring individual differences in risk-taking propensity involving both evolutionarily typical and modern risks, the researchers integrated several domain-specific risk-taking and developed a synthetic scale based on the results of factor analyses and validly tests. The end product is a Domain-Specific Risk-Taking Scale across Seven Domains (DOSPERT-7): cooperation/competition, safety, reproduction, natural/physical risk, moral risk, financial risk, and gambling. 

Then there was a twin study with a total of 240 same-sex twin pairs (108 female pairs and 132 male pairs) sampled from the Beijing Twin Study (BeTwiSt) registry. Using the DOSPERT-7 the researchers estimated genetic and environmental influences on individual differences in risk-taking propensity over the seven domains. The effects on risk propensity were partitioned into four components: additive genetic (A), dominant genetic (D), shared environmental (C), and non-shared environmental (E) effects. 

Additive genetic plus non-shared environmental effects (AE) models had the best fit for most of the domains, except for gambling and safety domains where CE models had the best fit, suggesting strong shared and non-shared environmental influences. Supporting the notion of risk-domain specificity, both the behavioral and genetic correlations among the seven domains were generally low. Among the relatively few correlations between pairs of risk domains, the analysis revealed a common genetic factor that regulates moral, financial, and natural/physical risk taking. 

After a series of meta-analyses of extant twin studies across the seven risk domains, the results showed that individual differences in risk-taking propensity and its consistency across domains were mainly regulated by additive genetic influences and individually unique environmental experiences. The heritability estimates from the meta-analyses ranged from 29% in financial risk taking to 55% in safety. 

In summary, this is the first effort to separate genetic and environmental influences on risk taking across multiple domains in a single study and it integrates the findings of extant twin studies via a series of meta-analyses conducted in different task domains. 

This research was partially supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China, Chinese Academy of Sciences, etc. The paper is now available online in Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.



(Editor: LIU Jia)


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