Why We're Afraid to Take Risks

Fear nothing but sin.
George Herbert1

What is it about the human psyche that makes risk taking so difficult?

Much of the scientific research on the subject has been done in decidedly nonecclesiastical settings — gambling casinos. Psychologists Gideon Keren and Willem Wagenaar, for example, observed more than eleven thousand hands of blackjack played by 112 gamblers in an Amsterdam casino, attempting to analyze how the players made their judgments. They found most players were reluctant to take large risks, and attributed the generally conservative play to three factors:

— Minimizing regret. Busting (taking one card too many and going over the game's limit of twenty-one points) was avoided. Better to let the dealer win than to be the cause of your own loss.

— Delaying bad news. Because the dealer plays last, players would rather lose at the last possible instant rather than force their own loss by acting too soon.

— Attentional bias. Players tended to work harder to avoid losing than to figure ...

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