A Normative Lay Theory of Risk-taking


How do people make meaning of risk-taking? The present dissertation proposes a normative lay theory of risk-taking. The proposed model promotes the following core ideas: (a) Risk-taking is generally an ambiguous construct and requires the illumination of at least some dimensional parameters to disambiguate the risk behavior and risk-taker; (b) Observation of these parameters activate corresponding beliefs about risk-taking that allow observers to make meaning of the risk-taking; (c) This lay theory broadly reflects risk-taking in a bold but ideal form (responsible risk-taking) or a rash and inferior form (reckless risk-taking). This lay theory, in turn, can facilitate distinct sets of perceptions, attitudes, intentions, and behaviors. The first chapter of this dissertation reviews the nature of risk-taking and the power of lay theories, explains how the lay theory of risk-taking is structured by an integration of these literatures, and describes the proposed lay theory’s potential utility for predicting risk-related perceptions, attitudes, and behaviors. Subsequent chapters describe empirical tests of the lay theory’s focal parameters. A series of experiments test and find evidence for four parameters that facilitate observers to evaluate risk-taking as responsible or reckless and potentiate a willingness to personally take risks. Risk-taking was generally perceived as responsible (vs. reckless) and personally worthy of imitation when the risk-taker was competent (vs. incompetent), deliberative (vs. impulsive), prosocial (vs. antisocial), and successful (vs. failed). Knowing whether the outcome of the risk taken was successful or failed tended to have an independent, additive effect when crossed with the other parameters.

Alternate Identifier
Date created
Resource type
Rights statement