Risk taking and the risky shift in children



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Age, sex, and ethnic differences in the individual risk taking of children were investigated. In addition, an attempt was made to establish the group-induced shift toward risk in children. The study involved Anglo and Mexican-American children from lower socioeconomic class families, male and female, and three age groups: six years (6-0) through seven years, eleven months (7-11); 8-0 through 9-11; and 10-0 through 12-0. The measure of risk taking was a modified version of Slavic's (1966) apparatus, a box with ten toggle switches, one of which, the child believed, was connected to a buzzer. The child was instructed to choose as many switches as he wished, the experimenter flipping the desired switches. The child could choose from a variety of prizes, one prize for each switch that was chosen and which did not result in the buzzer being sounded. The child was told that if he chose the wrong switch, i.e., the one connected to the buzzer, the prizes already won would have to be returned and the game would be over. During the practice trials, the child heard the buzzer connected with various switches, but in the experimental sessions, the buzzer was disconnected. Thus, the point at which the child voluntarily withdrew from the task was taken as the measure of risk. Children were tested in one of two conditions: either an individual played alone twice (I-I) or he was allowed to play one time alone and then a second time as part of a three person group (I-G). In the group, the children had to discuss and agree upon which switch and how many to press. In addition to the number of switches chosen, a measure of the percentage of dimes to total prizes was used. For the first trial (I), the measure of individual risk taking, the independent variables were age, sex, and ethnicity. There were no significant differences in individual risk taking for any of these variables nor were there any significant interactions among them. Most children chose around five switches, independent of their age, sex, or ethnic group. For subjects in the I-G condition, a shift in risk occurred (p <.001). The average shift in risk from the I to the G trial was 2.2 switches. There was a slightly negative shift in risk for subjects in the l-l condition. For the I-G subjects, there were no significant differences in the amount of risky shift across age, sex, or ethnic groups. The measure of the percentage of dimes to total prizes proved to be of much interest. On the first trial, the individual measure, Mexican-American children chose a higher percentage of dimes to total prizes than Anglo children and males chose a higher percentage than females. For both conditions, I-I and I-G, there was an increase in the percentage of dimes to total prizes chosen from the first to the second trial the amount of increase was almost identical for both conditions. A correlation between the shift in risk and the shift in dime preference from the first to the second trial proved insignificant, and an analysis of covariance in which the effect of dime preference was covaried, left the strength of the risky shift virtually unchanged. A significant correlation was found between the degree of heterogeneity of the group's initial risk preferences and the degree of shift in risk. The 'ceiling effect,' commonly found in adult risky-shift groups appeared in only two thirds of the I-G groups. Limitations of the present study and areas for further research are discussed.



Risk-taking (Psychology), Child psychology