Being in the presence of peers who engage in risky behaviours may have an influence on individual choices that involve risk a study in Scientific Reports suggests. In a laboratory task, participants who knew of riskier behaviour taken by their peers, tended to make riskier choices themselves. Observing safe choices by others was associated with less risky behaviour.
Livia Tomova and Luiz Pessoa asked 52 students aged 18-25 years old to take part in a laboratory-based task to measure risk taking. Participants could earn money by pumping up a balloon, however, the chances of the balloon exploding (and the participant not earning any money) increased with each pump. After the first round of the test, participants decided how much they wanted to pump the balloon up and were told the decisions the other students supposedly made (in reality, these were predefined decisions). They then gave the participants the chance to change their decision. Individuals were found to display riskier behaviours if they believed their peers took high risks, and vice versa.
The authors suggest that understanding how choices of others can influence risky behaviour is becoming more important, given increasing access to information about others’ lifestyles and opinions due to social media and new forms of information technology.