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Risk Taking as a Function of the Situation, the Person, and the Group USPHS SSRC

Kogan, Nathan; Wallach, Michael A.
Publication Year:
Report Number:
ETS Research Memorandum
Document Type:
Page Count:
Subject/Key Words:
National Science Foundation (NSF), United States Public Health Service (USPHS), Social Science Research Council (SSRC), Behavior Theories, Group Behavior, Individual Characteristics, Predictor Variables, Risk Taking Behavior


This essay considers the phenomenon of risk-taking behavior as a function of the situation, the person and the group. The introduction considers various mathematical models of decision- making in gambling or other risk-taking situations and suggest that all such models will be inadequate if they ignore "the variety of motivational situational and social factors that enter into the decision-making process." Under the category of situational factors, the kinds of decision-making tasks that can be used to elicit risk taking, the various possible contexts in which decisions can be made, and the implications of these contexts for risk-taking behavior, are discussed. Under the category of organismic characteristics, relevant demographic, personality, and cognitive variables that are considered, and finally, what is known about risk taking by groups of people in contrast to individuals is discussed under the category of social factors. More specifically, under situational influences, the following aspects are considered: chance and skill, information-seeking, effects of gains and costs in hypothetical decision situations, real versus imaginary incentives, the two-choice uncertain-outcome situation, effects of prior gains and losses, and risk taking in natural settings. Under personal influences, the following characteristics are considered: demographic correlates, personality and motivational correlates, risk taking and intellective functioning on objective tests, cognitive-judgmental aspects of risk taking, and generality and specificity of risk taking. Under groups or social decisions involving risk, several examples are presented along with some customary views, three studies and their implications, and an experimental paradigm. Also under this category, the following subjects are considered: generality of the risky-shift phenomenon, possible explanations of the risky-shift phenomenon, and personality of group members and group risk taking.

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