SCIENCE
02/02/2016 11:44 am ET

This Is How Risk-Taking Changes As You Get Older

And here's how to regain your youthful sense of adventure.
Risk-taking behaviors tend to change along with our personalities over the course of a lifetime. 
Randy Lincks via Getty Images
Risk-taking behaviors tend to change along with our personalities over the course of a lifetime. 

If you love thrill-seeking activities like bungee-jumping or would leave a stable job for a risky start-up venture, there's a good chance that you're a young adult.

New research investigating risk-taking behavior over time has found that our propensity to take chances tends to change along with our personality as we age. But it's more complicated than the stereotype of young people being bold and adventurous -- and older people being overly cautious, according to study co-author Dr. Gregory Samanez-Larkin.

"It's too often assumed that risk taking changes dramatically with age based largely on generalizations and stereotypes about more cautious older individuals," the Yale professor of psychology and neuroscience said in a statement. "Here we show with the largest study to date on the topic that these assumptions are unfounded."

Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Human Development showed that risk-taking is a facet of personality that is subject to change. They examined up to 10 years' worth of longitudinal data (2004 to 2014) from 45,000 men and women aged 18 to 85 in the German Socio-Economic Panel study.

At nine different points during the study period, the participants answered questions about their risk-taking tendencies. Nearly a third of the participants assessed their relationship to risk in various domains of their lives, including finances, recreation, work, health, social interactions and driving, at up to three different points. With another subset of the participants, the researchers conducted behavioral experiments to test risk-taking behavior and trust. 

The findings revealed that risk-taking behaviors are particularly likely to change during early and late phases of life. The researchers explain said that significant biological and cognitive changes and major life events, such as marriage and retirement, marked these periods, which could affect the willingness to take risks. 

"Risk-taking propensity shows to have characteristics similar to a personality trait that is subject to change," Dr. Anika Josef, a researcher at the Max Planck Institute and one of the study's authors, told The Huffington Post in an email. "Future work now needs to study whether ratings on these measures predict real-world behavior such as investment in stocks/bonds, smoking/taking drugs, bungee jumping and trusting strangers."

Risk-taking behaviors not only tended to show up differently in different areas of life, they also were found to decrease more drastically in the realms of work and recreation. That might mean that you'd be significantly more likely to go sky-diving or leave a stable job to go to a fledgling startup in your 20s than you would be in your late 50s. When it comes to social interactions, however, risk-taking remained relatively constant. 

People who are extroverts and those who are high in the personality trait of "openness to experience" -- which is highly correlated with imagination, adventurousness and creativity -- are also more likely to take risks. So, if a person becomes more or less extroverted or open as they get older, it's likely that they will also become more or less likely to take risks. 

So, if you want to tap into your youthful boldness and learn to take more risks in your life, tapping into these two personality traits -- extroversion and openness to experience -- is a great way to do it.

You can foster a spirit of openness by seeking out things that are new and different in your daily life. Try taking up a hobby or find a creative outlet, walk a different way to work, read a book on a topic you don't usually choose, or meet new people. You just might find that you'll feel inspired to take more risks in your life. 

The findings were published Jan. 28 in the journal Personality & Social Psychology. 

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