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Is Taking A Risk Better Than Playing It Safe?

One of the great dilemma’s in the history of psychology and the study of personality is the question of whether people who are willing to take risks go on to enjoy generally more exciting, fulfilling lives than those who choose to play things safe.

It is a question that some of the greatest minds in clinical psychology have addressed over the past 50 years. Over that time, the research conducted has consistently failed to resolve the issue; in fact it has posed more questions than it has answered. Therefore, the consensus, after half a century of psychological research into the matter is that psychologists do not have any conclusive empirical evidence as to which is the better way of living your life.

Perhaps this lack of concrete evidence is not surprising. The very nature of risk means that on some occasions in life there will be winners, such as the lucky bingo player who not only wins the full house, but also does so in such a way to trigger an additional online bingo bonus of several hundred or thousand Pounds.

The flip side of this, however, is that on occasion there will be losers, who will include everyone else who played that same game of bingo; but a fair point to raise at this juncture is, are they really losers?

Looking at the problem from a mathematical and financial standpoint, it is easy to argue that every player who did not win this game of bingo was a loser. Firstly, they lost the game, secondly, unless the losers had opted to play free bingo, they will have lost a financial sum and lastly the chance to win the larger bingo bonus has also eluded them; seemingly, a clear-cut case of where taking a risk has clearly not paid off.

There is a real problem with this assumption however. What if the person who ‘lost’ the game, was playing it without any expectation of winning? It sounds like a crazy argument, but research has shown that many people who play games do so for the social factor, rather than the thrill of winning. Online bingo research for example, has found that winning money is nowhere near the top reason why so many people play the game.

So, in this example, how can the person taking the risk, be said to be a loser when they have got what they want from the game? They may have not won the full house or the bonus, but they did chat and interact with their friends.

The problem with the whole risk taking versus playing it safe argument is that it broadly encompasses almost every aspect of our everyday lives. For example, we take a calculated risk that when we cross the road, a speeding car will not hit us. Risk is central to how our insurance premiums are calculated and during the course of a sport that involves any form of strategy, there comes a time when the participant will need to take a risk in order to win the game.

The history of humanity is littered with examples of people who took a risk and saw it pay off. Bill Gates famously gambled when he left University without his degree to set up Microsoft, and Sir Clive Sinclair lost a fortune when he developed the Sinclair C5, which failed to reach his sales expectations.

The truth is, playing things safe is not better than living your life in a riskier fashion and nor is leading a risky life better than playing things safe. To assume one is more beneficial than the other is to oversimplify what is a complex, psychological and philosophical issue.

The truth is, to lead a balanced and fulfilling life, there are times when we should play things safe and there are times when we need to take a risk. Whether we succeed or not is down to good judgement, strategy and plain luck.


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