Frank Plumpton Ramsey Professor of Political Economy
Dopamine and Risk Preferences in Different Domains
Dreber, Anna, David G. Rand, Justin R. Garcia, Nils Wernerfelt, J. Koji Lum, and Richard Zeckhauser. "Dopamine and Risk Preferences in Different Domains." HKS Faculty Research Working Paper Series RWP10-012, April 2010.
Individuals differ significantly in their willingness to take risks. Such differences may stem, at least in part, from individual biological (genetic) differences. We explore how risk-taking behavior varies with different versions of the dopamine receptor D4 gene (DRD4), which has been implicated in previous studies of risk taking. We investigate risk taking in three contexts: economic risk taking as proxied by a financial gamble, self-reported general risk taking, and self-reported behavior in risk-related activities. Our participants are serious tournament bridge players with substantial experience in risk taking. Presumably, this sample is much less varied in its environment than a random sample of the population, making genetic-related differences easier to detect.
A prior study (Dreber et al. 2010) looked at risk taking by these individuals in their bridge decisions. We examine their risk decisions in other contexts. We find evidence that individuals with a 7-repeat allele (7R+) of the DRD4 genetic polymorphism take significantly more economic risk in an investment game than individuals without this allele (7R-). Interestingly, this positive relationship is driven by the men in our study, while the women show a negative but non-significant result. Even though the number of 7R+ women in our sample is low, our results may indicate a gender difference in how the 7R+ genotype affects behavior, a possibility that merits further study. Considering other risk measures, we find no difference between 7R+ and 7R- individuals in general risk taking or any of the risk-related activities. Overall, our results indicate that the dopamine system plays an important role in explaining individual differences in economic risk taking in men, but not necessarily in other activities involving risk.