Monday, 28 March 2011


Primates other than humans have been studied when there is voluntary alcohol consumption, and the proportions of non-human primates that:
1. develop alcoholism
2. get drunk occasionally but are generally sensible
3. always drink in moderation
4. choose to be teetotal
have been found to be approximately the same proportions that are observed in humans.

Much of our predisposition towards level of personal control, and risk taking, seems to be genetic.  Upbringing may play a part, but it would seem to be a function of brain structure.  In life there is usually a trade-off between risk and potential reward; it makes sense for some members of a population to be more adventurous, and for some to be more risk-averse.

I'd like to share with you two things relating to risk that I find interesting:

1.  Drivers tend to drive to a level of risk that [at least partially] compensates for any safety measure.  For example, if you wear a seatbelt you drive slightly more recklessly and therefore you are more likely to kill someone else (protection afforded to you still far outweighs the extra risk to others - it is mainly pedestrians and cyclists that bear the brunt of the extra risk).
This thinking is obvious if taken to extremes – imagine if there were no seatbelts and a big spike in the middle of the steering wheel... there would be a lot of very careful drivers out there!

2.  The parasitic protozoa toxoplasma gondii's primary life cycle involves passing through a rat/mouse and a cat. Experiments have shown conclusively that this infection causes a rat to become less risk averse.  It becomes much more likely to forage out in the open rather than skulking in the shadows, and therefore more likely to be caught by a cat and continue TG's life cycle.  It may come as little surprise to some readers that toxoplasma gondii sets up residence in the amygdala.  Although rats and cats are the primary life cycle hosts for TG, human infection in USA is estimated at 22.5% (much higher for cat owners!) and worldwide it is estimated at 25 - 75 % (those are some big error bars, eh?).  Infection normally poses no obvious effects, very few people are struck with acute toxoplasmosis, but studies have shown effects on human risk taking and personality.  People infected are more likely to be involved in traffic accidents, and less likely to accept group moral standards
So perhaps the local crazy cat-lady has good reason...


LigerLily said...

this is so fascinating!!

Erika said...

Hey sorry, I'm really fucking high right now so I can't be arsed to og through previous posts to find link n sit but you go to my youtube channel http:@// then go to challenge #1, the link to challenge #1 is in the description. and it was fersh btw. but you can see that from the video anyway. have fun and i apolose before hand if it not to your expectations or some shit.

Peace .. <3

Anonymous said...

i blame my dead cat for all my problems then. Too bad i'm getting a couple more. :D

Anonymous said...

this kinda helps you see what i meant about impulse control not being related to self-esteem. par example.

ResCogitans said...

erika - i finally watched it at the shockvideo link. last time i looked there it hadn't been approved or something. what expectations do you think i had, lol? :)

notme - so you're a crazy cat-lady! hmmm i'd say there is still a component of self esteem involved when setting your risk threshold. plus this risk-taking i'm talking about here isn't necessarily impulsive. making a conscious decision to drive fast or go bungee jumping would seem more premeditated than the short term impulsive giving-in to a nicotine craving...

Haven said...

Haha, we have 2 cats and 4 rats. Hmmmm. I'm only crazy about my cat though.

I always think about risk vs. potential reward. I always consider pretty much every possibility or outcome that could arise from my choices. Then I steadfastly ignore most of them in favor of doing whatever it is that I want to do.

I'm curious about the less likely to accept group moral standards. I had this thinking for any of the cats and rats though.

ResCogitans said...

it's good to give into impulses now and then - you don't wanna live like a robot - but not every time!

Anonymous said...

Usually the only time I think about Risk vs Reward is when I see a potential risk as serious, otherwise I either feel like doing it, or I don't.

Anita Johnson said...

Risks are high! Come check me out,

Ana said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ana said...

'In life there is usually a trade-off between risk and potential reward; it makes sense for some members of a population to be more adventurous, and for some to be more risk-averse.'

I don't understand the potential reward.

regardless, good post. I enjoy knowing this kind of things.

ResCogitans said...

@Ana, thanks for the feedback :)
when modelling risk/reward in game theory it would simply be, for example, a choice between:
1. an 80% chance of gaining £10, 20% chance of getting nothing.
2. a 10% chance of gaining £80, 90% chance of getting nothing.
In a real life situation it might be a choice between:
1. staying in my current area, where there is probably enough food and mating opportunity if i work hard at it.
2. move to another area where I might thrive and mate a lot, or I might starve and not get any.

the average outcome is the same in each case (easier to work out with the hard numbers assigned to the rewards in game theory!) but which option an individual choses is up to them. Apart from the inherent variation in how much risk people take, it is advantageous to a species if there are some high-risk individuals who help to spread to new fertile areas, or who advance technology, or generally try new things.

Antares Cryptos said...

Interesting post, interested in game theory. I'll be back to read some more.

Kelly said...

My first visit to your blog. Glad I stopped by. You write well. I enjoyed reading your interesting thoughts and facts on risk taking. The effects of toxoplasma gondi infection on humans was of particular interest. I think it helps to take risks in moderation and be able to have the foresight of what will likely happen if they do this or don't do that. Some people do have the foresight but choose to ignore it. I say if you're going to do something involving an important action on your part, you should weigh the potential outcomes for your decisions. Take care.

ResCogitans said...

i'll probably do a whole post on cost/benefit calculations and examples from my life. i think i am more consciously aware of them, whereas most people do the calculation in their unconscious and the result is then passed to their conscious as an emotion to elicit the desired response.
"take care", lol. often i hear people say that to someone i consider a boring sheep - and i then think it would be much better advice to say to them "take a risk" :)