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Is the willingness to take risks contagious? A comparison of immigrants and native-born in the United States

Aigul Mavletova () and James Witte

Journal of Risk Research, 2017, vol. 20, issue 7, 827-845

Abstract: A number of studies have shown that immigrants are more willing to take risks than native-born populations. In this paper, we measure if the willingness to take risks is contagious and if this effect is different for immigrants and native-born individuals in the United States. We suggest that the willingness to take risks may be contagious, like emotions and generosity, i.e. an individual may be more willing to take risks if others make risky decisions. We measure if contagion has a stronger effect on willingness to take risks among immigrants than native populations using a variety of vignettes, specifically in the domains of career, financial investment, and health. Respondents were randomly assigned either to a control or experimental condition. In the experimental condition, we attempted to induce risk-taking by suggesting that other individuals made risky decisions in the lottery-choice tasks (a ‘risk shift condition’). Contrary to expectations, the risk shift condition had a positive effect on willingness to take risks among native-born, while a negative effect or no effect was found among immigrants (conservative shift). Native-born found the situations more beneficial in the risk shift condition than in the control condition, while immigrants found them less beneficial in the risk shift condition. The conservative shift was found among immigrants, as well as males and self-employed. Risk shift condition reduced the sense of power among power-motivated individuals (males and immigrants), which produced a less optimistic evaluation of risky situations. While taking into consideration that others make risky decisions, immigrants and males perceived situations as less beneficial for them. The results of the experiment have some implications for our understanding of the link between a sense of power and the willingness to take risks.

Date: 2017
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