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Risk Bias


Explanations > Preferences > Risk Bias

Risk attraction | Risk avoidance | So what?


Some people take all kinds of risks, whilst others focus more on safely steering clear of them.

Risk attraction

People who are attracted to risks may do so for one of two main reasons. First, the goal may be the risk itself. Risk creates the buzz of arousal. The actual risk taken to cause excitement depends on the person's arousal threshold. For many, the apparent risk (yet known safety) of roller-coasters is more than enough. Others need the real risks of extreme sports. For those with a low arousal threshold, the vicarious excitement of movies is often sufficient.

Another reason that people seem attracted to risk is that it the shortest route to what lies beyond it. They desire a certain outcome more than they fear the risk. Thus a young man will dare to ask out a beautiful young woman. A thief will risk prison. A gambler will lay a high stake on a horse with only an outside chance of winning. There may still be a buzz in the risk, but it is not the real goal.

Taking risks can also seem like cheating death or other down-sides, making the risk-taker feel invulnerable and all-powerful.

Risk avoidance

Those who tend more to avoiding risks are at the opposite end of the scale to the risk-seekers. They generally have somewhat lower arousal and stress levels. They are often driven more by fear and focus more on what they might lose than what they might gain.

Others who seem to avoid risk may do so purely because they are already contented and have neither unquenched desires nor need for further stimulation.


Note that although they may have general tendencies, individuals can have different profiles for different types of risk, for example those that affect:

  • Physical harm
  • Financial gains or losses
  • Social position
  • Danger to family, friends or other people in general

Risk decisions are also balanced against potential gain, and individuals may treat this potential gain differently, for example:

  • Financial gain
  • Gain in social status
  • Thrilling physical sensations
  • Success at work

Perhaps the most 'dangerous' risk-takes are those that think little about the down-side of risks, seeking only the almost addictive physiological 'thrill' sensations (for example joy-riders who steal cars and then drive them recklessly, revelling in the danger).

So what?

Challenge risk-seekers. Show them thrills and excitement. Tell them how others have failed. Dare them to have a go.

With risk-takers, hold up a picture of a desirable future and either ignore or play down risks.

Risk-avoiders see the risks, and perhaps even see the risk as greater than it really is. Don't pretend the risk isn't there, but you can rescue them or otherwise offer help and advice. You can also strategically place risks to shepherd them in the right direction.

If faced with the passive risk-ignorer, either crank up the risk until they cannot avoid it or seek another way to move them.

See also

Attraction vs. Avoidance preference, Threat forecast, Deal and Kennedy's Cultural model, Neglect of Probability Bias, Arousal Personality Types


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