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
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