Scandinavian Working Papers in Economics

SIFR Research Report Series,
Institute for Financial Research

No 71: Dopamine and Risk Preferences in Different Domains

Anna Dreber (), David G. Rand , Justin R. Garcia , Nils Wernerfelt , J. Koji Lum and Richard Zeckhauser
Additional contact information
Anna Dreber: Institute for Financial Research, Postal: Drottninggatan 89, SE-113 60 Stockholm, Sweden
David G. Rand: Harvard University
Justin R. Garcia: Binghamton University
Nils Wernerfelt: Toulouse School of Economics
J. Koji Lum: Binghamton University
Richard Zeckhauser: Harvard University

Abstract: 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 correlates 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 based differences easier to detect. A prior study (Dreber et al. 2010) looked at risk taking by these individuals in their bridge decisions. Here we examine the riskiness of decisions they take in other contexts. We find evidence that individuals with a 7-repeat allele (7R+) of DRD4 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.

Keywords: Risk preferences; Dopamine; Risk taking; Risk perception; DRD4

JEL-codes: C91; C93; D03; D81; D87; G00

21 pages, May 15, 2010

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