Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Risky Business

I heard an interesting segment on All Things Considered (on NPR) last week. It talked about the part of a person's brain, the amygdala, that assesses risk - the doctor called it "an early warning system about impending threat." So, it's the part of our brain that's ok with having a person stand 3 feet away from us, but feels uncomfortable when the person moves to 1 foot away; or, as shown in the study this segment highlighted, it's the part of the brain that stops us from taking big financial risks - or at least the part that helps us to weigh the risk-reward probability.

When clinically evaluating the extent to which this part of the brain functions, they use a woman who's amygdala has been damaged by a disease. So, her brain doesn't recognize the "warning signs" like people with functioning amygdalas: she's comfortable having people stand too close to her, and she's fearless in situations where she could lose large amounts of money.

Listening to this segment made me wonder, if this woman can have an under functioning amygdala, could I have an over functioning one?

I was in line at Walgreens today when the man behind me was waaaaaay too close for my comfort. That's what made me remember the NPR segment - because probably in general, he wasn't that close. (And I wasn't uncomfortable in a I'm-in-Memphis-could-be-robbed sort of way, it was more just like ew-sick-get-away-you're-gross-and-way-too-close-ew kind of way.) But it made me really uncomfortable. Or often in the elevator at work, I'm hyper aware of when someone is standing in my area. Or in store aisles, when I need to pass someone, I notice if they don't move over enough to give me space. What I'm saying is that I really like my personal space.

I also wonder about financial risk - now I'm definitely not unrisky (ie, I recognize that a certain level of risk will most likely attain a certain level of reward). But I can't ever see myself ever being comfortable with gambling, or flipping houses, or putting a lot of savings into opening a business, or putting tens of thousands of dollars on a racehorse (which is how a certain family member sent her kids to college). But I'm not sure if these are normal sentiments toward financial risk, or if I sound straight-up frightened about losing money.

So what do you all think? Would you consider yourselves risky? Or frightened little frady cats like me? The NPR segment is interesting though, I recommend a peruse if you have time.


Amanda said...

I am definitely more like you, especially when it comes to money. Luckily Stephen is more balanced, so he makes me take more risks than I would otherwise. Now that I think about it, I am a lot like you. I hate it when someone pushes their cart an inch away from me in line at the grocery store.

LB said...

When Brian was in college, his best friend (for whatever reason) only had $1,000 to pay tuition but he had $4,000 due the next day, and if he didn't pay it the next day, he was out. So the two of them took the $1,000 to a casino, spent all night gambling, and walked out with $4,000. I would've died.