A comparison of risk preferences in choices for self and others

Pavel Atanasov, University of Pennsylvania


Are we more inclined to take risks for ourselves than on someone else's behalf? Risk taking for self and others were compared across four studies. Study 1 was a meta-analysis of 28 effects from 18 studies. Overall, choices for others were significantly more risk-averse than choices for self. Two features of the choice environment moderated these effects. First, surrogate choices were significantly more risk-averse than personal choices in the presence of potential losses, while no differences were detected in the gains-only domain. Second, decision makers tended to avoid risks for reciprocally related recipients more than for themselves. This difference was smaller in the absence of reciprocal relationships. Published studies tended to find larger self-other differences, as did studies in medical contexts. A relational model of surrogate risk taking was proposed to explain the pattern of results. The model emphasized the importance of chooser-recipient relationships, and the tendency to minimize potential blame from causing losses to others, rather than maximizing credit for gains. Study 2 examined the hypotheses suggested by the relational model using a gambling task with financial payoffs. Participants were asked to choose between low-risk and high-risk financial prospects, which affected either their own payoffs or the payoffs of reciprocally related counterparts. Choices for others were more risk-averse than choices for self, but the differences were not significant. Anticipated feedback amplified self-other differences. Study 3 widened the scope to decisions for groups rather than individuals, and used a competitive game design. Group representatives tended to be less co-operative but more risk-averse than individual decision makers. In Study 4, a national sample of obstetricians and gynecologists completed a survey about their personal cancer screening (risk-reducing) practices and the ones they would recommend to patients like themselves. Female physicians above 40 were more likely to recommend mammography screening than to personally undergo the procedure. Physicians' screening frequency was lower than recommended to their peers. Across all four studies, decision makers were more willing to undertake risks for themselves than for others. Implications for medical decision making and organizational behavior are discussed. ^

Subject Area

Psychology, Behavioral|Economics, General|Psychology, General

Recommended Citation

Atanasov, Pavel, "A comparison of risk preferences in choices for self and others" (2012). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3542773.