July 2, 2009

Stressed men more risky, women less risky

Men under stress may be more likely to take risks, while stressed women may be less likely to do so, U.S. researchers found.

The study, published in the journal PLoS One, shows that men under stress may be more likely to take risks, correlating to such real-life behavior as gambling, smoking, unsafe sex and illegal drug use, while stressed women moderate their behavior.

Evolutionarily speaking, it's perhaps more beneficial for men to be aggressive in stressful, high-arousal situations when risk and reward are involved, lead author Nichole Lighthall of the University of Southern California Davis School of Gerontology said in a statement. Applied to financial risk taking, it's akin to competition for territory or other valuable resources.

The researchers asked participants to play the Balloon Analogue Risk Task in which inflating a balloon earns money. Participants were told that they could cash out their earnings by clicking a button at any point in the game. However, the balloon would explode if it was inflated beyond its randomly determined break point and all winnings would be lost.

Members of the control group inflated the balloon about 40 times on average.

However, women in the stressed group inflated the balloon an average of 32 times, while their stressed male counterparts inflated the balloon an average of 48 times.

Men seem to enter more risky financial situations than women, which was part of the impetus for our study, Lighthall said