Risk-taking- The motivation and emotion behind risky behaviours
Risk-Taking Why do we take risks?What are the consequences? University of Canberra Motivation and Emotion, 2011 Kathleen Hughes
Risk“ You have to risk going too far in order to discover just how far you can really go. ” - T.S. Eliott, 1888Do you binge drink, smoke cigarettes, take drugs, drink and drive or have unprotected sex?If you have ever engaged in any of these behaviours you may not be aware that you are a risk-taker.And in some cases its not just a behaviour, its a part of your personality.
Risk can be classified as the potential that a chosen action or activity (including the choice of inaction) will lead to a loss.The notion implies that a choice having an influence on the outcome exists (or existed).Potential losses themselves may also be called "risks". Almost any human endeavour carries some risk, but some are much more risky than others.
RiskTaking a risk is when you experiment with a new behaviour. It can be a healthy and a positive way to:• Test your limits• Test other peoples boundaries• Learn new skills and experience new things (including in work, study, relationships)• Take on more independence and responsibility for your life.• Taking risks can be fun and give you an adrenaline rush but sometimes those risks may affect your well-being and cause you harm (Hamilton, 1974).So why do we take risks? What are some of the consequences of risky behaviour and how can we manage risk-taking healthily?
The Problem and Consequences “ To be alive at all requires some risk. ” - Harold Macmillan, 1894• Engaging in risky behaviours can become a problem if it has a negative effect on your day-to-day life.Examples of unhealthy risky behaviours might be:• Unprotected sex• Drink driving• Car surfing• Drug or alcohol abuse, including binge-drinking• Deliberate self-harm• Dropping out of school or getting suspended regularly• Breaking the law, e.g. shoplifting, and• Severe or excessive dieting.
Consequences• One of the major problems and long term consequences of engaging in risky behaviour consistently is the negative effect it can have on an individuals ability to function as a fully functioning and successful member of society.
Binge Drinking• Risk-taking behaviours such as substance use does not occur without a variety of consequences for individuals, including a variety of psychosocial and behavioural problems during adolescence and early adulthood. Binge drinking has been associated with lower rates of educational attainment, antisocial and violent behaviour, driving under the influence, and even health problems, such as obesity.
Substance Use• Marijuana use also has the potential to bring about many detrimental consequences. In a manner similar to alcohol use, high rates of marijuana usage have been associated with lower educational performance and lower expectations for success, problems relating to other family members, a greater likelihood to use more illicit drugs in the future, and a combination of physical and psychological health problems. The use of illicit substances by individuals, such as cocaine, has been linked to consequences similar to those shown among individuals who drink heavily and smoke marijuana.
Why Do We Take Risks?“ Yes, risk-taking is inherently failure-prone. Otherwise, it would be called sure-thing-taking.” - Jim McMahon, 1959During the different stages of life, people can become vulnerable to the influences of peer pressure and popular culture. This can lead to individuals being inclined to experiment, push boundaries and take risks that could impact on their own and others immediate and longer term health and wellbeing.
The reasons you might take unhealthy risks, include:• Peer pressure - It is not uncommon to want to have respect from your peer group or those whose opinion may be important to you. Engaging in a risky or dangerous activity or behaviour may be a way for you to feel accepted and part of the group.• Believing that its a way of proving to yourself or others that youre an adult and that you are responsible for your own actions.• Dealing with problems or escaping from unhappy situations or feelings. It may not always be obvious that you are using the behaviour as a way of managing your problem or unhappy situation.• As a form of rebellion against something or someone.• To get attention or a response from someone.
Risk Assessment• Risk assessment is a step in a risk management procedure. Risk assessment is the determination of quantitative or qualitative value of risk related to a concrete situation and a recognized threat (also called hazard).• Individuals obviously differ in all aspects of behaviour and personality and the same can be said for propensity of risk-taking behaviours. While some individuals demonstrate sparse or spontaneous risk-taking behaviours, others continuously demonstrate consistent risk-taking behaviours. There are a few different means in use in order to measure someone’s risk-taking tendencies, three of which are the Betting Dice Test, the Iowa Gambling Task and the Balloon Analog Risk Task; these will be further outlined.
Iowa Gambling Task• First, the Iowa Gambling Task is a computer-based task in which participants have to select cards from one out of four decks in order to get as much money as they can; when the card is selected, the amount won is indicated. The decks differ in the amount of immediate gain versus the possibility of penalty with larger rewards and losses in decks A and B than in decks C and D. The optimum results are achieved by avoiding decks A, B and selecting cards from decks C and D. The IGT is not a pure risk propensity measure. Instead, it is a measure of decision-making impairment usually present in ventro-medial prefrontal cortex damaged patients. In fact, the expected values of the four decks are not the same. It is expected that unimpaired people choose cards from the more “advantageous” decks.
Balloon Analog Risk Task• A second behavioural measure is the Balloon Analog Risk Task in which participants pump up an on-screen balloon with the aim of making it as large as possible without causing it to explode. The balloons have different explosion probabilities from the first to the 128th pump; as long as it doesn’t explode, the larger the balloon is pumped, the greater the gain. The Balloon Analog Risk Task can be considered a “pure” measure of risk propensity as long because it clearly presents a risky situation in which alternatives have different (uncertain) probabilities and rewards.
Betting Dice Test• A third behavioural measure of risk-propensity is the Betting Dice Test (BDT), which consists of betting on one out of four alternatives that can result when throwing two dice. The higher the probability of occurrence, the lower the reward associated. Contrary to the Balloon Analog Risk Task, where the expected values of the alternatives change throughout the test, the expected values of the Betting Dice Test options are always the same. It is therefore assumed that participants who bet on the more probable but less rewarded alternative are making a more conservative selection than those who place the less probable though more rewarded bet. Moreover, no feedback is given after each bet. Participants elections are free from the previous results obtained. The test developed from a risk-return trade-off framework: Potential return rises with increase in risk, so that low levels of risk are associated with low potential returns, and high levels of risk are associated with high potential returns.
Risk Management• You may be thinking about taking a risk or are already engaging in risk-taking behaviours. Changing your behaviour can be tough, particularly if you have been engaging in risky behaviour for a while. If you are feeling pressure to change, the change will require changing your lifestyle, or moving away from some people that you associate with for a period of time.• The following steps may help you decide whether you want to continue or change your behaviour.
• Identify:Sometimes you may not be aware that a behaviour is unhelpful or unhealthy. Identify the risks and benefits of your behaviour and how it effects others and yourself (e.g. health, work, family etc).• Contemplation: Think about the pros and cons of changing your behaviour. This might include thinking about how you can reduce the risks associated with the problem or risky behaviour.• Decision:If you do decide a change in behaviour is needed, start by making a plan to change. This might include action plans and setting small, gradual goals.• Action: As you start carrying out your action plan make sure you reward yourself for reaching each goal, in order to provide positive reinforcement. Identifying barriers to change, coping skills, and social supports is also important.• Maintenance: Develop strategies for sustaining the changes. This may be through your social supports and by reminding yourself why you decided to change your behaviour in the first place.• Relapse: You might find yourself reverting back to the unhelpful behaviour. Its important not to blame yourself or feel guilty. Changing behaviour can be hard and relapse is not uncommon, what is important is that you keep trying to lead a healthier and safer lifestyle.
Finding Help “ Nothing risked, nothing gained.” -Alexander Woollcott• Cocaine Anonymous Australia Help Line - +61 (0)432 040 023• Alcoholics Anonymous Australia Help Line - + (02) 6287 3020• Marijuana Anonymous Australia Help Line - +61 (0)403 945 083• Narcotics Anonymous Australia Help Line - + (02) 9565 1453• Beyond Blue Australia Help Line - 1300 22 4636• Pregnancy, Birth & Baby Helpline Australia Help Line - 1800 882 436• Gats counselling (Counselling services)• Beyond blue: National Depression Initiative (Online resources & counselling services)• Youth beyond blue (Youth online resources & counselling services)• My self help(Online support)
Summary• Risk-taking is a part of everyday life in some sense and requires some degree of risk. In order to accomplish things that you arent 100% sure are going to work out the way you want, requires you to take a chance that it is going to work. It is when risk-taking takes a turn for the dangerous and unhealthy that it can become a problem for individuals and the people they are close to. In order to manage risk-taking behaviours effectively it is necessary to observe your own behaviour closely and try to pinpoint what it is that makes you behave in risky ways. Once you have identified these events or behaviours, make the decision to change. Set goals and make an action plan with positive reinforcers along the way. If external help or motivation is needed get in contact with a help-line or ask friends and family for assistance. In psychological sense there are a few different measures in use for assessment of an individuals risk propensity, most of which are useful but none of which are agreed with complete consensus that it is correctly measuring risk-taking. The consequences of risk-taking can be devastating and long-term and the time should be taken to learn how to manage your own or to help someone else realise and moderate risk-taking behaviours.
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