Are you a Risk Taker?

According to Oprah Magazine, a spontaneous, risk-taking personality type is:

“Action oriented, curious, outgoing and lives for new experiences. You are drawn to risk-taking and aren’t afraid to fail. Generally restless, you tend to job-hop or choose a field that offers constant novelty.”

When I first stumbled across this in an article entitled “Who are you meant to be?” in this month’s O magazine, I was floored. That last sentence completely stopped me in my tracks. It was like Wait a second. You mean to tell me that not only is my one-of-a-kind personality actually one of seven personality types but there are others like me out there, too?

I was simultaneously relieved to learn that I wasn’t alone and dumbfounded that my unique, complicated and wholly incomprehensible inner motivations could be summed up so easily into three paragraphs. Apparently I’m not as original as I thought.

Curious, I started to research the risk-taking personality type and apparently not only is there a sub-species of risk-taking types walking (or free-falling, paragliding, rock climbing) the planet as I type, but they’ve been doing so since our ancestors first dared to venture out of the safety of their caves 100,000 years ago.


Photo courtesy of Science Daily

I can just imagine what my tribal role in life would’ve been back then. I’d probably be “Chief Food Taster”, as in, “Here, try this weird looking plant and tell me if tastes poisonous, mmmkay?” or possibly “Chief Sketchy-Looking Cave Explorer”, as in “Hey, do me a favor and scope out yonder cave for saber tooth tigers, will ya?”

For obvious reasons, the risk-takers of yore didn’t live very long. But as Salvadore Maddi of the University of California-Davis pointed out, “It’s better for one person to eat a poisonous fruit than for everybody,” so they served a vital role in the evolution of mankind. And traces of that adventurous trait is still evident in people today.

Because apparently risk-taking is not only a personality trait but an inherited one. It’s called the “high-risk gene” and through twin-studies, scientists have discovered that it’s 60 percent genetic.

Which explains so much. It explains why, for example, although completely different in every other way, my brothers and I all share the same impulsive, irrational desire to repeatedly throw ourselves in harms way. Our methods may be different (they do it through cliff jumping, sky-diving, motor-cross racing and high stakes gambling and I do it through travel), but the driving force is the same. We hail from a long-line of risk-takers, starting with our unconventional, hippie, Harley Davidson-riding parents and going back to our great-grandparents who immigrated to the US 100 years ago.

The fact though that modern society has evolved in a way that we no longer need to spend our days hunting buffalo or outruning rhinos, makes some scientists wonder if the risk-taking gene has become obsolete. Or worse, harmful.

Because the same gene that motivates high-risk personalities to bungee jump or move to Mongolia, also makes them prone to stranger sex, drug abuse, reckless driving and crime.As Maddi put it, healthy, well-adjusted people are “good at turning every day experiences into something interesting. My guess is that the safe-cracker and the mountain climber can’t do that as well. They have to do something exciting to get a sense of vitality. It’s the only way they have of getting away from the sense that life sucks.”

He went on to say that high-risk takers “have a hard time deriving meaning and purpose from every day life.” A psychologist from the university of Michigan, Randy Larsen, even went as far to state that risk-takers are “a little sociopathic”.

Watching this video of people base-jumping off of cliffs superman style certainly makes me think that he may have a point. A very small one, but still. What do you think? Are risk-takers an inspiration to society or a hindrance?

Wanna read more? Check out:

Risk by Paul Roberts, Psychology Today.


Are you a Risk Taker?
by Marvin Zuckerman, Psychology Today.

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Comments ( 2 )

  1. Jack

    No, I am a bit of a coward, haha. Maybe this is because I am timid and have been scared from an automobile accident as a child? I do not know, perhaps the way we develop our personalities and traits are as varied as the diversity we have?

  2. Chris

    Funny you mention “Chief Food Taster” and “Chief Sketchy-Looking Cave Explorer” as tribal roles. I can totally see being one of those in a tribal society. I always thought I would be a lookout or scout of some kind in such a society… generally doing those things on my own, but reporting my findings back to the group. As in, "check out this cool little canyon I just found, it's full of this delicious wild fruit!" or "The British are coming! The British are coming!"

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