152 Risky Business

Based on research by Helfinstein, Sarah M., Mumford, J.A, and Poldrack, R.A. (2014), written by Mara Rowcliffe, BS.

If your friend jumped off a bridge, would you jump too?

Psychologist Sarah Helfinstein and colleagues noticed a difference between the types of risky behaviors people would recommend to others and those they engage in themselves.  In order to understand why this difference exists, they evaluated 400 participants who reported their willingness to engage in a series of risky behaviors themselves and their willingness to recommend these same behaviors to a loved one.  They identified how good of an idea it would be to engage in these risky behaviors, what level of risk is involved, and whether they know someone who has previously engaged in the behavior.  Results revealed that when they observed that others engaged in the risky behavior, they were more willing to engage in the risk compared when either they perceived the risk as high or were unwilling to recommend it to others. This suggests that an individual’s decision to engage in risky behaviors is more influenced by others’ choices instead of their own better judgment.

If you wouldn’t recommend a risk to a loved one, why is it okay for you? Take time to think how you might be persuaded by others’ fool-hardiness, instead of your own good judgment.


Helfinstein, S. M., Mumford, J. A., & Poldrack, R. A. (2014). If All Your Friends Jumped Off a Bridge: The Effect of Others’ Actions on Engagement in and Recommendation of Risky Behaviors. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, Vol 144(1), 12-17.

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