• A
  • A
  • A
  • ABC
  • ABC
  • ABC
  • А
  • А
  • А
  • А
  • А
Regular version of the site

Why Men Take More Risks Than Women

Why Men Take More Risks Than Women

© iStock

Researchers from HSE University and Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences have discovered how the theta rhythm of the brain and the gender differences in attitudes to risk are linked. In an article published in the journal Frontiers in Neuroscience, the researchers addressed which processes can be explained by knowing this connection.

By transmitting signals, the brain's neurons generate electromagnetic fields. The multiplicity of neurons makes these fields strong enough to be recorded on the surface of the head using magneto- and electroencephalography techniques. The resulting recording of the brain’s electrical activity is divided into frequency bands — brain rhythms, which are designated by Greek letters. We know for each one in which parts of the brain it is generated, in what state the person is in (e.g., at rest or during tasks) and what processes it may be associated with.  

Existing research suggests that many differences in behaviour, including attitudes toward risk, can beat least partly explained by individual characteristics of brain activity. On average, women are known to take risks less frequently than men, and experiments have shown a correlation between willingness to take risks and differences in the strength of right and left frontal lobe theta rhythms (frontal theta asymmetry). However, these studies either included only or mostly women, and it remains unclear whether the asymmetry of theta rhythms actually contributes to gender differences in risk-taking.

The authors of the new article set three objectives:

  • The first was to determine whether there is a correlation between risk attitudes and frontal theta asymmetry in a sample with more or less equal numbers of male and female subjects.
  • The second was to test whether the combined strength of the theta rhythms of both frontal lobes is associated with behaviour under uncertainty (there is already evidence for this).
  • The third was to determine whether the neuronal oscillations generated in the anterior cingulate cortex (an area of the brain involved in error monitoring and possibly linked to gender differences in decision-making) correlate with risk-taking.

Thirty-five people took part in the experiment; of these, 15 participants were women. Each participant was asked to undergo a magnetoencephalography and three tests measuring risk-taking and impulsivity. The first test involved selecting a number of boxes (out of 100), each of which offered a monetary reward, but if one of the selected boxes contained a ‘bomb’, the participants lost all their earnings. Each participant was given 30 attempts. The second and third tests were questionnaires: the Barratt Impulsiveness Scale showed how a person assessed his or her own ability to plan and exhibit self-control, while the Domain-Specific Risk-Taking Scale (DOSPERT) showed how willingly a person agreed to a particular risk-taking action and how he or she assessed the possible gains and losses arising from it.

In the boxes test, men showed a higher risk appetite than women (an average of 48 boxes opened versus 40; participants chose fewer boxes on their first try — 44 and 31 out of 100, respectively). Of the questionnaires, only the DOSPERT Benefits scale yielded a similar result (men are more optimistic about the positive outcome of a risky venture); the other tests showed no gender differences. The frontal theta asymmetry was not significantly related to the number of boxes selected in the sample — a positive correlation was evident only among women. The strength of the frontal theta rhythms (and especially the oscillations localized in the anterior cingulate cortex) correlated with results of the game, as well as with subjective assessments of benefits and losses from risky behaviours. 

Thus, the researchers suggest that individual variability in the strength of theta rhythms in the anterior cingulate cortex is related to gender differences in assessing the consequences of risky actions and, consequently, attitudes toward risk. It is likely that both the activity of this brain region and risk-taking are influenced by hormone levels such as testosterone.

‘Gender differences in weighing of the potential consequences of decisions may not only affect risk-taking, but also reflect a more fundamental process of emotional responsiveness to environmental stimuli. We speculate that such differences related to hormonal regulation may also influence the prevalence of depression, anxiety and other clinical conditions among women, and we will continue to explore this topic,’ concluded Maria Azanova, the lead author of the article.

See also:

HSE University Center for Language and Brain Becomes World Leader in Just 10 Years

How can a small Russian research group become a world-famous scientific centre in less than a decade? A special edition of the Frontiers in Psychologyjournal devoted to increasing public awareness of neuroscience features an article about the HSE University Center for Language and Brain, including the successes and challenges of its early years.

Readiness to Punish Others for Selfish Behaviour Explained by Functional Brain Connections

The stronger the functional brain connections, the less inclined someone is to punish others for unfair behaviour. This conclusion was reached by HSE researchers following a neuroimaging experiment. Their paper ‘Wired to punish? Electroencephalographic study of the resting-state neuronal oscillations underlying third-party punishment’ was published in the journal Neuroscience.

Researchers Come Up with a New Explanation of Processes that Underlie Working Memory

Researchers from the HSE Centre for Cognition & Decision Making have developed a computational model of working memory and demonstrated the stabilizing effect of gamma oscillations, as well as the importance of fast interaction between the model components. The study results have the potential to become part of a theoretical basis for experiments on improving working memory functions with non-invasive brain stimulation. The study was published in Frontiers in Neural Circuits .

Lasers, Magnetic Stimulation and a Robotic Arm: How Researchers at HSE University Study the Brain

The Institute for Cognitive Neuroscience (ICN) at HSE University has recently added state-of-the-art laboratory equipment to its range of tools for studying brain function. The News Service visited the Institute to learn more about the uses of infrared lasers, optical tomography and a unique robotic arm, as well as why research into vascular tone is important, which parts of the brain can be stimulated to make people more generous, and how the Institute’s research can help treat diseases.

Cutting Edge Neuroscience Research to Be Discussed during Online Conference at HSE University

The first International Conference on Social Neurology in Environmentally Sound Conditions, organized by the International Laboratory of Social Neurobiology of the Institute of Cognitive Neurosciences and Aalto University will be held online on June 21-23, 2021. The HSE News Service spoke with conference organisers and some of the key speakers in the run-up to the conference about its agenda and some research highlights.

Mirror Labs: A Geographic Effect

The HSE Laboratory for Neurobiological Foundations of Cognitive Development (Neuropsy Lab) is one of 13 winners of the HSE Mirror Laboratories Competition and the only lab headed by an international faculty member. The Neuropsy Lab’s partner institution is the Scientific and Educational Centre for Interdisciplinary Research and Art Technologies based out of Ulyanovsk State University. The HSE Look spoke about this collaboration with the lab’s head – Dr Marie Arsalidou, Associate Professor at the HSE School of Psychology.

What Can Make Robots More Human-like?

What is affect and why is it important for humans? How can feelings be defined and what is their relation to emotions and consciousness? What might be used in making a soft robot? Professor Antonio Damasio (University of Southern California, USA) discussed these and other questions in his honorary lecture, entitled 'Feeling, Knowing, and Artificial Intelligence'.The talk was delivered on April 16 at the at the XXII April International Academic Conference held by HSE University jointly with Sberbank.

Magnetic Impulses Help Create Muscle Activity Maps to Diagnose Motor Disorders

Using transcranial magnetic stimulation, Russians scientists were able to precisely track inter-muscle interactions between cortical representations of arm muscles. In the future, this method will help track brain changes in patients with motor disorders. The study was published in Human Brain Mapping. The project was supported by the Presidential Programme of the Russian Science Foundation (RSF).

‘In the Blink of an Eye’ Statistics: People Estimate Size of the Set of Objects Based on Distance to Them

HSE University researchers Yuri Markov and Natalia Tiurina discovered that when people visually estimate the size of objects, they are also able to consider their distance from the observer, even if there are many such objects. The observers rely not only on the objects’ retinal representation, but also on the surrounding context. The paper was published in the journal Acta Psychologica.

Can the Brain Resist the Group Opinion?

Scientists at HSE University have learned that disagreeing with the opinion of other people leaves a ‘trace’ in brain activity, which allows the brain to later adjust its opinion in favour of the majority-held point of view. The article was published in Scientific Reports.