Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Risk aversion research

Whilst teaching at the Medical Sciences Division at Oxford University this week I came across a young D.Phil student conducting some very interesting research into risk and risk aversion in humans through the lens of medical perspectives of gambling addiction. Now clearly I am not going to pre-publish someone else's research, and especially not a student's, however the conversations we are having and the other research we have discussed are available to share and they throw an interesting light on risk averse behaviour, ambiguity and emotional resilience.
First I just want to reiterate a couple of things that I have mentioned before; Risk aversion is an emergent property of an individuals emotional reaction to a situation that is perceived to be ambiguous or uncertain, and that risk averse behaviour is usually different depending on whether the risk is considered to be risk of a gain or risk of a loss. Normally are more willing to take a risk if they believe there is a potential large win and a small loss. Which is why many more people will risk a few pounds or dollars on only a 14 million to 1 chance of winning the lottery (and almost certain to loose their money) without thinking and yet won't engage in stock ownership even though the likelihood of profiting is far greater in the latter scenario.
So most people have a natural tendency to avoid loss. This is that case whether the loss is financial, personal - like a job, role or position or social like a relationship, often suffering sever hardships rather than loose something like a bad relationship or a job they don't like.
The risk aversion in these cases are anticipatory, the loss hasn't actually happened and cold calculations of probability rarely affect the emotional reaction. (Which is why we often concentrate on emotional resilience in our workshops and coaching).
To be continued...

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