Meet your new reason to skydive or pursue your "crazy" dream: People who take chances may have a more developed brain than their cautious counterparts, according to a new small study.
Scientists from the Scandinavian research organization SINTEF and the University of Turku in Finland found a difference in "white matter" -- the brain's neural network responsible for efficiently analyzing and transmitting information -- between "high risk-takers" and "low risk-takers." Those who were identified as high risk-takers had significantly more white matter in the brain.
The study authors had 34 male participants ages 18 to 19 participate in a driving simulation that took each of them through a set of 20 traffic lights. The study volunteers had the option to either stop or complete the journey as quickly as possible, but run the risk of a "collision" or a red light. Each participant was awarded points based on the level of risk they took during the exercise.
Neurological scans revealed those who made quicker decisions and took more chances during the interactions appeared to exhibit more brain activity than those who opted to drive more safely. Researchers conducted brain scans before the experiment began in order to compare them with the results following the driving simulation. The study's findings were published in the journal PLOS ONE.
It's important to reiterate that the study was only conducted on men. While research shows male and female brains are not wired differently, there still could be a few psychological factors at play. Previous studies suggest that men in general are more prone to taking dumb risks, for example. That being said, older research has linked quick thinking to more intelligence in both women and men.
It's also key to point out general safety concerns, at least when it comes to the measures of this particular study. It's likely better to make a life-saving decision (i.e. not run a red light) than take a chance for the sake of improving your intelligence -- but maybe that's just this author's cautionary demeanor talking.
Researchers hope the study informs educators about the behavior of risk-takers and how it can help enhance learning and develop decision making. The authors theorize that seeking out challenges stimulates the brain, which pushes it to change or grow.
"All the positive brain chemicals respond under such conditions, promoting growth factors that contribute to the development of the robust neural networks that form the basis of our physical and mental skills," study researcher and behavioral analyst Dagfinn Moe said in a statement.
"The point here is that if you're going to take risks, you have to have the required skills," he continued. "And these have to be learned. Sadly, many fail during this learning process -- with tragic consequences. So this is why we're wording our findings with a Darwinian slant -- it takes brains to take risks."
Either way, more research probably needs to be conducted before a definitive conclusion can be made. However, based on the preliminary study, it appears taking chances may somewhat pay off -- at least neurologically.
High risk, high reward?
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