Biological Basis of Risk Preferences

Posted: 18 May 2010

See all articles by Anna Dreber

Anna Dreber

Stockholm School of Economics - Department of Economics

Date Written: May 18, 2010


Individuals differ significantly in their willingness to take risks. Studies on twins suggest that part of the individual variation in risk taking can be explained by genetic differences. I will discuss work by my collaborators and me where we explore how risk-taking behavior varies with different versions of the dopamine receptor D4 gene (DRD4). We focus on economic risk taking, as proxied by a financial gamble. Our participants are college students and serious tournament bridge players, the latter with substantial experience in risk taking. In two different studies 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 mainly exhibited in men in our samples. We also look at non-economic risk measures but find no correlation with variation in DRD4. Our results thus 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.

Suggested Citation

Dreber, Anna, Biological Basis of Risk Preferences (May 18, 2010). Gruter Institute Squaw Valley Conference – Innovation and Economic Growth, 2010, Available at SSRN:

Anna Dreber (Contact Author)

Stockholm School of Economics - Department of Economics ( email )

P.O. Box 6501
Sveavagen 65
S-113 83 Stockholm

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