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Babies Turn Off Women's Willingness to Take a Risk

Update Date: Apr 17, 2012 10:40 PM EDT

Unlike men, women restrain risk-taking behaviors when a baby is present, according to a new study.

Whereas women are significantly more careful when they are partnered with small children in a gambling game measuring their attitude to risk, men don't substantially change their willingness to take a chance.

"To our knowledge this is the first study to look directly at the effect of babies on male and female risk-taking," said Thomas Hills of the Department of Psychology at the University of Warwick.  "It's as if babies turn off women's a willingness to take a risk - but interestingly the same doesn't apply to men."

Scientists at the University of Warwick and the University of Basel had eighty undergraduate students — 40 male and 40 female — play a gambling game while alone and while paired with either an image of an attractive man, woman or baby with whom they imagined they would share their winnings.

The subjects accumulated cash while pumping up a computer-simulated balloon which could explode randomly at any moment.As the game progressed, participants had to decide whether to stop pumping and "bank" the winnings -  or whether to continue and risk the balloon exploding and all the cash being lost.

"Even though the women in the study were not the mothers of the babies they paired with,just having a baby involved in the game was enough to substantially change their behaviour," said Hills.

Authors said this could be due to evolutionary forces that select for men who are more competitive and risk-seeking in order to establish status and women who are more risk-averse in order to protect their offspring.

The research also found that men increased their risk-taing behavior when partnered with other men - consistent with theories that suggest that men are driven to compete with other men in order to maximise their reproductive opportunities.

However, men did not take more risks when paired with a woman.

This finding is consistent with other studies that have shown that men in committed relationships show less risky behavior as they no longer need to compete with other males to increase their reproductive opportunities.

"Our attitudes to risk form a big part of our personality and determine our behaviour in all sorts of areas — for example how we approach financial investments or what leisure activities we indulge in," said the lead author.

The study, titled The baby effect and young male syndrome: social influences on cooperative risk-taking in women and men, was published in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior.  

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