A team of international scientists have found that risk-taking behaviour is in some people’s genes. People who like taking a risk, or even just tend to speed and drink too much, may have genes linked to risk-taking.
The scientists looked across the entire genome to find regions of DNA linked to risk tolerance, adventurousness, and risky behaviours around driving, drinking, smoking, and sex. They found 99 regions of DNA linked to our general tolerance of risk, 46 of which were also linked to at least one other risky behaviour. The study reveals that our biochemical make-up influences our willingness to take risks.
“Being willing to take risks is essential to success in the modern world,” according to the study co-author Abraham Palmer, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry and vice chair for basic research at UC San Diego School of Medicine. “But we also know that taking too many risks, or not giving enough weight to the consequences of risky decisions, confers vulnerability to smoking, alcoholism and other forms of drug addiction.”
Prof Palmer’s lab is working to understand the genetic basis of individual differences in impulsive and risky decision-making styles.
“Risk-taking is thought to play a role in many psychiatric disorders,” said co-author Murray Stein, M.D., MPH, distinguished professor of in the departments of Psychiatry and Family Medicine and Public Health, and vice-chair for clinical research in psychiatry at UC San Diego School of Medicine. “For example, patients with anxiety disorders may perceive increased risk in certain situations and therefore avoid them unnecessarily. Understanding the genetic basis for risk tolerance is critical to understanding disorders and developing treatments.”
What is risk-taking behaviour?
Being willing to take risks is essential to success but risk-taking behaviour also refers to the tendency to engage in activities that have the potential to be harmful or dangerous.
Risk taking can put people in harm's way, but it also gives people the chance to experience an outcome they perceive as positive. Risk-taking behaviours like driving fast or drug taking, may lead to car accidents or overdoses, but they can bring short term positive feelings. This includes the thrill of a fast ride or being high. Risk-taking behaviour includes gambling, typically losing more than they can afford. These individuals may also take part in extreme sports or recreational activities.
Even when risk-takers engage in widely practiced or normal behaviours, such as drinking or driving, they tend to over-do it and put their lives at risk. Risk-takers tend to ignore the consequences of their behaviours.
Who's at Risk of Risk-Taking Behaviour?
Some research indicates that men tend to be more likely to be risk-takers than women. But both male and female risk-takers share the same personality traits, such as impulsive sensation-seeking, aggression-hostility, and sociability. Studies have found that risk taking behaviour diminishes in later life, but it may not peak until aged 50.
How to curb risk taking
Risk-takers need to constantly stop and ask themselves the question, “What if it all goes wrong?” What if the worse thing happened? You must make yourself stop and think. Remember there is no urgency to make decisions, better is a well-thought-out considered response.
It is also a good idea to discuss your options with trusted wise friends. You needed to stay connected to others.
Risk-takers are often impulsive and prone to rashness. It is essential that you learn how to delay your gratification. Remember you need to learn moderation, slow consumption and ultimately stability.
Set yourself rules. Write them down. For example you must think for three days and talk to friends before making major decisions.
It is also a good idea to be mindful or aware how you feel and where you are when on the brink of making a big risky decision. Do you make risky decisions when feeling over-confident and happy, or are you reckless when feeling down? What are your thoughts, emotions and physical sense of self when about to indulge in risky behaviour? Focus on this and you will soon be able to read your own warning signals. This will help you to control your urges. Use a kind voice when temped to be risky, say “Being cautious and waiting does not come naturally but I can do it.”
Set up obstacles to stop yourself behaving impulsively. Put the bulk of your money in banking accounts that require several days notice to withdraw. Do not drink and make phone calls. Give your phone to a trusted friend if necessary. Set up impediments to stop yourself behaving in a risky way if you need to.
It is also a good idea to get into activities that calm you like yoga or Pilates. Sometimes impulsivity might be the result of being stressed. Relaxing can help calm impulsive urges. Deep breathing and walking may also help.
Another option to better understand your risk-taking is to get some professional counselling from a qualified psychologist. Does it date back to your childhood? Or your youth? Would it be worth exploring the origins of your risk-taking to control it in the future?
Managing impulsivity is not easy, especially if you are naturally or genetically inclined towards risk-taking and reckless behaviour. But by better understanding how your risk-taking behaviour reveals itself, you can stop taking risks and regain control of your life.
ABOUT PAT MESITI
Pat Mesiti is a best-selling author, coach and educator in the area of personal development. Having built some of Australia’s largest people-driven organisations, Pat understands the power of harnessing human potential. He has shared the stage with some of the world’s great business minds and has sold over millions of copies of his books and materials.