Young people who take greater risks than their peers will most likely continue to do so as they age, according to a new analysis published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
“The data suggests risk-taking is similar to a personality trait in that it remains relatively stable throughout most of adulthood,” said study co-author Dr. Gregory R. Samanez-Larkin, assistant professor of psychology.
For the study, Samanez-Larkin and researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Germany and the University of Basel in Switzerland evaluated the responses of participants aged 18 to 85 who took part in the cross-national German Socio-Economic Panel study which lasted just over a decade.
The findings reveal that a person’s level of risk-taking remains stable over time, relative to their peers. For example, the results suggest that a person who went bungee jumping in their 20s may be more likely than their more risk-averse peers to ride a motorcycle later in life.
However, this does not mean people in their 70s remain as likely to skydive as people in their 20s, said the researchers, noting that recreational risks of this type tend to decline steeply after the age of 30.
“Overall, the stereotype is that we take less risks when we are older and in general the respondents in the survey are telling us that is true,” Samanez-Larkin said. “The new and interesting part of this study is that the effect of age on risk-taking varies across a range of activities.”
For example, an individual’s willingness to take financial risks remains steady until he or she nears retirement age, noted Samanez-Larkin. On the other hand, when it comes to social risk-taking such as the willingness to trust another person, “We see a flat line — it doesn’t change with age,” he said.
The researchers note that the findings, especially on trusting others and taking social risks, may help us better understand why older people tend to be more susceptible to fraud. It has been suggested that the elderly are more often the victims of con artists because of a decline in cognitive skills.
However, it does not appear that older people are more susceptible to fraud simply because of their age. The elderly are targeted more often by criminals simply because they have more money, Samanez-Larkin said.
These new findings also suggest that the people who were more trusting as youth may be more vulnerable to fraud as they age only because now they are the focus of the con artists’ attention.
“This potentially has implications how we might better protect people from fraud,” he said.