People who take calculated risks are likely to be smarter than average, research finds.
People making quick decisions and taking chances have more white matter in their brains.
White matter is sometimes called the ‘superhighway’ of the brain: it transmits signals and regulates communication.
The researchers were surprised by the result as they expected the exact opposite: that smarter people would spend more time evaluating the situation before making a decision.
Dr Dagfinn Moe, study co-author, explained:
“We expected to find that young men who spend time considering what they are going to do in a given risk situation would have more highly developed neural networks in their brains than those who make quick decisions and take chances.
This has been well documented in a series of studies, but our project revealed the complete opposite.”
The research involved young men playing a driving game.
The results showed that high-risk takers did not hesitate as long during the game.
Dr Moe thinks that the ability to take risks is under-appreciated by society at large:
“Daring and risk-willingness activate and challenge the brain’s capacity and contribute towards learning, coping strategies and development.
They can stimulate behaviour in the direction of higher levels of risk-taking in people already predisposed to adapt to cope optimally in such situations.
We must stop regarding daring and risk-willingness simply as undesirable and uncontrolled behaviour patterns.”
Seeking out challenges helps to stimulate the brain, which may be why risk-takers have more white matter.
Dr Moe said:
“All the positive brain chemicals respond under such conditions, promoting growth factors that contribute to the development of the robust neural networks that form the basis of our physical and mental skills.
The point here is that if you’re going to take risks, you have to have the required skills.
And these have to be learned.
Sadly, many fail during this learning process — with tragic consequences.
So this is why we’re wording our findings with a Darwinian slant — it takes brains to take risks.”
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
The study was published in the journal PLOS ONE (Vorobyev et al., 2015).