In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Risk Taking

  • Introduction
  • Journals
  • Defining Risk
  • Risk Perception
  • Risk Comprehension
  • Risk Communication
  • Neuroscience of Risky Decision Making
  • Measures

Psychology Risk Taking
Valerie F. Reyna, Sharjeel A. Chaudhry, Priscila G. Brust-Renck, Evan Andrew Wilhelms, Caisa Elizabeth Royer
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 September 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 September 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199828340-0007


Engaging in risk-taking behavior throughout life can be related to a variety of negative short- and long-term physical and psychological consequences. For example, the two diseases that kill the greatest percentage of adults in the United States across all ethnic and racial categories—cancer and cardiovascular disease—have strong links to risk-taking lifestyle behavioral influences. Relevant research on risk taking, however, can be found throughout a variety of disciplines (e.g., public health, psychology, pediatrics, sociology) and domain-specific professional communities (e.g., smoking, AIDS prevention, alcohol and substance abuse). The research that is conducted can focus on either risk taking in laboratory tasks or on real-life applied behaviors. In a laboratory task, risk taking can be defined as choosing a gamble when a safe option is available, such as when a safe option is of equal expected value. In applied experiments, however, risk taking is defined as behaviors that expose people to such risks as pregnancy and HIV/AIDS. In both contexts, taking risks involves choosing courses of action that carry with them greater uncertainty and, among the uncertain outcomes, carry possible negative outcomes relative to the alternative actions. The extent of the relationship between laboratory tasks and real-life behavior is one of the empirical questions that are investigated in the risk-taking literature, and such relationships are observed. Theoretical perspectives on risk taking can range from those that characterize mature decision making as cold, deliberative, and resulting from analytical processes that eschew emotion in the quantitative weighing of risks and benefits, to those that emphasize nondeliberative intuitive reaction to perceived prototypes or gists of decision options. This article examines risk taking according to these multiple perspectives, as well as implications for how to mitigate risks.


Among specific psychological journals in which articles on risk taking can be found, some are particularly relevant to the study of risk taking because of the high-quality level of the publications, including Psychological Review, Psychological Science, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, and Journal of Experimental Psychology: General. The first two journals provide high-level theoretical discussion of decision-making processes that are key to risk taking. The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology covers several topics that influence risk taking, including behavior, affect, and motivation, while the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General includes articles that cover implications of risk from a variety of psychological perspectives. Other publications, such as Organization Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Journal of Behavioral Decision Making, and Judgment and Decision Making, include papers concerning human decision-making processes, which are key to understanding the mechanisms that underlie risk taking. Finally, Risk Analysis is dedicated solely to risk. The journals listed in this section were included due to their high rate of relevant publications in the risk-taking literature.

  • Journal of Behavioral Decision Making. 1988–.

    The Journal of Behavioral Decision Making includes articles that seek to understand decision-making processes, including risk taking. Although the journal is not dedicated specifically to risk, it often supplies various decision aids that work to enhance rational decision making, and hence mitigate risky behavior.

  • Journal of Experimental Psychology: General. 1916–.

    The Journal of Experimental Psychology: General publishes articles that synthesize traditional interests of two or more communities of psychology. Articles often discuss rational decision-making processes and risk, as well as their relation to memory and performance.

  • Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 1965–.

    The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology addresses social behavior in which cognition plays a major role. Relevant to risk taking, this journal publishes articles on behavior, affect, and motivation.

  • Judgment and Decision Making. 2006–.

    Judgment and Decision Making is the journal of the Society for Judgment and Decision Making (SJDM) and the European Association for Decision Making (EADM). The open-access journal includes articles that explore normative, descriptive, and prescriptive analyses of human judgments and decisions, which are central to risk-taking behavior and risk analysis.

  • Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes.

    Organization Behavior and Human Decision Processes includes articles on factors that influence risk taking, including judgment, attitudes, emotion, well-being, motivation, choice, and performance. The papers include discussions of the implications of the included research on organizational behavior, organizational psychology, human cognition, judgment, and decision making.

  • Psychological Review. 1894–.

    Psychological Review publishes review articles that make significant contributions to scientific psychology. The journal’s editorial board has rigorous criteria of acceptance. Articles that provide the theoretical underpinnings of risk taking are published within this periodical.

  • Psychological Science. 1990–.

    Psychological Science includes the latest findings in cognitive, social, developmental, and health psychology. Articles often include discussion of decision-making processes, including risk taking.

  • Risk Analysis: an International Journal

    Risk Analysis, the official journal of the Society for Risk Analysis, includes various articles on topics such as risk assessment, risk characterization, risk communication, risk management, and policy, as they relate to risk.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.