How Does Feedback Sensitivity Affect Risk Taking in Anxious Individuals?

People with anxiety tend to have increased sensitivity toward situations that they perceive as threatening. This is one of the hallmark symptoms of anxiety problems such as generalized anxiety, social anxiety, phobias, and panic. Because people with anxiety are more apprehensive and averse to the potential negative outcome of events than those who do not exhibit anxious behaviors, they tend to take less risks. There are a number of studies that have focused on risk-taking behavior in anxious and nonanxious individuals. But fewer studies have looked specifically at the underlying factors related to risky and nonrisky decision making and how the subsequent outcomes affect future choices. To address these questions, Cinzia Giorgetta of the Department of Cognitive Science and Education and the Center for Mind Brain Sciences at the University of Trento in Italy recently led a study that analyzed the decisions and outcomes of participants with and without anxiety.

For the study, Cinzia assessed 20 individuals with panic problems or generalized anxiety and compared their risk taking behaviors to 20 participants with no history of anxiety. The participants were presented with two separate gambling scenarios, one with a high risk/reward outcome and one with a low/risk reward outcome. Cinzia discovered that the anxious participants chose the low risk/reward option more often than the high risk/reward option, whereas the nonanxious participants more often chose the high risk/reward option. The experiment also revealed that the anxious participants were more sensitive to the outcome of their choices. In particular, the participants with anxiety were less likely to take risks with each subsequent choice, regardless of the outcome. Additionally, the anxious participants demonstrated less satisfaction with gains than the nonanxious participants. However, those few anxious participants who did demonstrate happiness with their outcomes were inclined to take more risk with future choices. The results of this study expose behavior patterns that are unique to individuals with anxiety. Cinzia added, “These findings suggest promising new avenues of research with clinical populations that could be usefully employed in standard models of decision making, as well as in clinical treatment.”

Giorgetta, C., Grecucci, A., Zuanon, S., Perini, L., Balestrieri, M., Bonini, N., et al. (2012). Reduced risk-taking behavior as a trait feature of anxiety. Emotion. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0029119

Related articles:
Imagine Not Worrying: How to Stop Scaring Yourself
Exploring the Effects of Anxiety

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  • Bellamy


    July 25th, 2012 at 11:33 AM

    From the way I am reading this, you make it sound like risk taking would be the more preferable choice for people to exhibit? Why is this? Even if there is a likelihood that they will receive a reward there is still the possibility that this will not be the case. So why always advocate the risk taking behavior when possibly the behavior that the anxios participants are exhibiting could be perceived by some to be the smarter, safer move?

  • Laura


    July 26th, 2012 at 4:21 AM

    I have always been a pretty laid back kind of person, there is not too much that I let bother me. So reading so many of the articles that have been posted here this week have been real eye openers for me. I never really understood where much of this anxiety came from or the ways that it can physically affect people, but this is far more serious than I have ever admitted. I always thought that they could just be a little more like me, and just get past some of that. I see now that it isn’t so easy. They have what I may consider irrational reactions to certain stiuli, but what I need to be more considerate of is that this is something that they can’t help until they are given the chance to get help, and that I can b more of a friend when I help them find that way to change.

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Title   Content   Author is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, medical treatment, or therapy. Always seek the advice of your physician or qualified mental health provider with any questions you may have regarding any mental health symptom or medical condition. Never disregard professional psychological or medical advice nor delay in seeking professional advice or treatment because of something you have read on