Does Gender Influence Risk Attitude and Ambiguity Aversion? When Psycho-Physiological Measurements Contradict Social Beliefs

23 Pages Posted: 17 May 2013

See all articles by Gianni Brighetti

Gianni Brighetti

University of Bologna

Caterina Lucarelli

Università Politecnica delle Marche

Date Written: May 15, 2013


This paper investigates a condition which is preliminary to attitudes towards entrepreneurship and innovation, because it focuses on human behavior in conditions of uncertainty. It analyzes whether or not there exists a biological difference between females and males when behaving under such conditions. Uncertainty is generally related to risk on the one hand, and to ambiguity on the other. Coherently with these two dimensions, the paper investigates if risk-taking attitudes and ambiguity aversion are related to gender.

After organizing a cooperative of researchers from different scientific backgrounds; economists on the one hand and neurologists on the other; we observed a population of 645 individuals variegated by gender, education, and professional experience. We ran a psycho-physiological experiment which simulated real-life decisions in conditions of reward and punishment, that was originally intended to explain decision-making deficits in people with specific frontal lobe damage. This experiment made use of the IOWA Gambling Task (IGT) with the simultaneous collection of the individuals' Skin Conductance Response (SCR). It was integrated with a questionnaire made up of a financial risk tolerance self-assessment tool, an impulsivity test, and a set of socio-demographical questions. It proposed some indicators for risk propensity that we distinguished between biased and unbiased ones, in relation to the ability of the agent interviewed to alter his or her performance at the task, (i.e. if he or she is conscious or unconscious of the risk profile that is emerging).

Our findings support that there is no statistical evidence of differences in behaviors when we observe males and females and measure their attitude through unbiased indicators. But, when we move towards indicators obtained from self-evaluations, statistical differences arise. These differences hold also in a multi-variate framework, meaning that they are just related to gender and not to different drivers that may be related to it, (such as education, self-esteem, wealth, and impulsivity). Therefore, our paper asserts that a strong cultural bias induces women to believe themselves to be risk averters and men to believe themselves to be risk lovers, even if they both, facing a risky or ambiguous task, behave the same.

Keywords: risk attitude, ambiguity aversion, psycho-physiological measurements, biased beliefs

Suggested Citation

Brighetti, Gianni and Lucarelli, Caterina, Does Gender Influence Risk Attitude and Ambiguity Aversion? When Psycho-Physiological Measurements Contradict Social Beliefs (May 15, 2013). Available at SSRN: or

Gianni Brighetti

University of Bologna ( email )

Piazza Scaravilli 2
Bologna, 40100

Caterina Lucarelli (Contact Author)

Università Politecnica delle Marche ( email )

Piazzale Martelli 8
Ancona, 18039
0039.071.2207196 (Phone)
0039.071.2207253 (Fax)

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