Don't Like to Take Risks? Your Brain Says, Too Bad

I once moved across country in my early 20s to a new job, where I knew no one, to get over a broken love affair. Years later, I met a man who was clearly commitment-phobic but I stuck it out for 10 years, ignoring all my family and friends' advice to find someone else, and we've now been happily (mostly) married for 20 years.  Probably the biggest dare of my life was accepting an egg from an anonymous donor to have my son.

Yes, I'm a risk taker.  My husband, on the other hand, likes eating in the same restaurant at the same time on the same day every week.  He also likes to keep his money in a savings account (last time I looked, the interest rate was under 1%).  Recently he moved his money to an annuity based on stocks and hasn't been sleeping nights.

So some of us take risks, and some of us don't.  But a new study has found that we take risks because we just can't stop ourselves.  

According to, "A new study correlating brain activity with how people make decisions suggests that when individuals engage in risky behavior, such as drunk driving or unsafe sex, it’s probably not because their brains’ desire systems are too active, but because their self-control systems are not active enough."

The way the study worked? Researchers analyzed data from 108 subjects who sat in a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner — a machine that allows researchers to pinpoint brain activity in vivid, three-dimensional images — while playing a video game that simulates risk-taking.

The researchers used specialized software to look for patterns of activity across the whole brain that preceded a person’s making a risky choice or a safe choice in one set of subjects, reports. "Then they asked the software to predict what other subjects would choose during the game based solely on their brain activity." The software accurately predicted people’s choices 71 percent of the time.
When the researchers trained their software on much smaller regions of the brain, they found that just analyzing the regions typically involved in executive functions such as control, working memory and attention was enough to predict a person’s future choices. Therefore, the researchers concluded, when we make risky choices, it is primarily because of the failure of our control systems to stop us.
I have a friend who tries to control everything -- who his child takes as a friend, what she gets for a grade (arguing with teachers to get it changed), even trying to get into school functions early to get the best seat.  
In the end, you can't control everything.  Trying to is a bigger risk, because you're bound to be disappointed, at some point.
I doubt my husband will ever be comfortable taking risks, though he does all the time in his practice as a dentist.  After all, life is risk.  
I suppose you can try to live your life under a rock but sooner or later somebody's going to come along and move it, or smash it to pieces!  So buck up.  Risk is a part of life.  You might as well enjoy it.  


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