Running a quick search on risk-taking quotations will reveal that the wise, the artistic, the leaders, and the innovators consider risk-taking a necessary part of life. Of course, none of these people would have been considered wise, artistic, leader and innovator if they hadn’t been willing to take chances in the first place and put themselves out there. But every creature, to some degree, takes chances in life. “Behold the turtle,” counsels James Bryant Conant. “He makes progress only when he sticks his neck out.”
Being risk-avoidant has its benefits, of course. People with this profile are less likely to bring harm to themselves or to others, are less likely to make rash decisions and the consequent mistakes, and are less likely to fail. On the flipside, they’re also not liable to attain great achievements, have memorable experiences, and achieve those dreams that are locked up tight on a shelf at the back of their mind.
Extreme risk-takers can be reckless, dangerous, and put their body and finances in peril. But to risk nothing is to achieve nothing. Thankfully, there is a happy medium. According to army general George Patton, the key is to “Take calculated-risks. This is quite different from being rash.” So what are the traits that make risk-taking more or less likely, and who possesses them?
According to our research using RiskTA (Risk-taking Assessment), calculated risk-taking involves a careful balance of sensation seeking, harm avoidance, conscientiousness, locus of control, comfort with ambiguity, and reward orientation. Data we collected from over 7,000 test-takers reveals that most people are moderate risk-takers - and more likely to chase rainbows if there’s a nice pot of gold at the end. Essentially, the greater the reward, the more likely we are to take risks.
Gender differences reveal interesting although perhaps not surprising results. Men were shown to be more likely to take risks than women, to be sensation seekers, to be more comfortable dealing with the ambiguity of risk-taking, and to have a stronger reward orientation. Women on the other hand, were more likely to want to avoid harm and were more conscientious.
Some theorists believe that women’s risk-taking behavior (or lack thereof) has an evolutionary link. Women are more likely to be the ones taking care of others – putting themselves in danger places those they care for in danger as well. This is reflected in our data, with women’s tendency to be more likely to want to avoid harm, and to be as cautious as possible. In fact, the majority of test-takers who indicated that they have been in “more than 7 car accidents” and have had “more than 7 bones broken’ were men.”
In terms of age, sensation seeking tends to decrease with age, while conscientiousness, harm avoidance, and internal locus of control increase. Those who are 40 and older are more comfortable with ambiguity, while the 18-29 year olds are more oriented towards reward.
What people often don’t realize is that risk shouldn’t be all or nothing. Calculated risk-takers, entrepreneurs for example, are very comfortable taking chances and dealing with the ambiguity of it, but they also have a healthy dose of conscientiousness.
If you need to fill a position that involves taking risks, look for the right combination of risk-taking traits. People who are very harm avoidant may be too inhibited to take risks, while sensation seekers who lack forethought will be too much of a liability. This is why screening for the right balance of traits is important.Download our free eBook loaded with down-to-earth information about psychological testing for HR purposes.