Gender Bias in Risky Behaviour

Earlier this week, my son was out riding his bicycle on a side street near our home when our neighbours came out to say hello. My son was riding an oval shaped pattern and was going at full five-year-old speed when our neighbour commented, “Boys and girls are so different! My daughter would never have ridden her bike so fast. He has no fear!” While this may appear to be based on a simple stereotype, the fact of the matter is that studies have shown a clear gender difference in the extent to which men and women engage in risky behaviour.

While research psychologists have known for years that, generally speaking,  men engage in more risky behaviour than women, research has shown that this general truth is more complex. For example, a recent study from the University of South Carolina had participants play the “Balloon Analogue Risk Task”.  In it, subjects are asked to push a button to inflate a balloon for a money. They are also told that if they find that the balloon is getting too big, they can push the “cash out” button. Furthermore, the are instructed that, if the balloon pops they  lose all of their gains.Two groups were studied with one of them being placed under a stress condition (i.e., placing their hand into ice cold water). The results showed that while men and women are similar in their willingness to take risks when they are in relaxed situations, men are significantly more likely than women to take risks when under stress. Under stress, women are more likely to be deliberate, conservative and thoughtful.

The analogue test was developed to allow controlled laboratory studies of  men and womens’risk taking tendencies. Researchers are particularly interested in understanding men’s increased tendency to engage in gambling, smoking, unsafe sex and illegal drug use.

You can read more about this study here. Another interesting study regarding gender and risk can  be accessed here.

Do these results coincide with your experience? Let us know by leaving a comment.

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