Research ArticleBEHAVIORAL PSYCHOLOGY

Risk preference shares the psychometric structure of major psychological traits

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Science Advances  04 Oct 2017:
Vol. 3, no. 10, e1701381
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1701381

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Abstract

To what extent is there a general factor of risk preference, R, akin to g, the general factor of intelligence? Can risk preference be regarded as a stable psychological trait? These conceptual issues persist because few attempts have been made to integrate multiple risk-taking measures, particularly measures from different and largely unrelated measurement traditions (self-reported propensity measures assessing stated preferences, incentivized behavioral measures eliciting revealed preferences, and frequency measures assessing actual risky activities). Adopting a comprehensive psychometric approach (1507 healthy adults completing 39 risk-taking measures, with a subsample of 109 participants completing a retest session after 6 months), we provide a substantive empirical foundation to address these issues, finding that correlations between propensity and behavioral measures were weak. Yet, a general factor of risk preference, R, emerged from stated preferences and generalized to specific and actual real-world risky activities (for example, smoking). Moreover, R proved to be highly reliable across time, indicative of a stable psychological trait. Our findings offer a first step toward a general mapping of the construct risk preference, which encompasses both general and domain-specific components, and have implications for the assessment of risk preference in the laboratory and in the wild.

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