Some stray enough to the edge to create a successful business – while others fall off the edge. But whatever you think of risk-takers, it turns out taking a less-than-cautious approach to life may actually be genetic.
Risk-taking, one of the most widely recognised qualities among successful entrepreneurs, is driven by the level of dopamine in our bloodstream, according to new research published in the Journal of Neuroscience.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter which works in our brains to control our reward-seeking behaviour – some people naturally have a higher level of this chemical than others.
The researchers at University College London looked at how the chemical influenced the actions of 30 healthy adults when they were asked to perform a gambling task on two separate occasions – once after receiving a strong dose of dopamine and once after receiving a placebo.
The task required them to choose between safe and risky options that led to monetary gains and losses – decisions those trying to build businesses are frequently confronted with.
When they performed the task on a high dopamine level, the volunteers were much more likely to make decisions leading to monetary rewards. Winning the reward after taking a risk also led to them being much happier than when on a placebo, no matter how large or small the reward was.
The conclusion the researchers came to was that dopamine made the rewards more appealing, and therefore significantly increased the chance of the person taking the risk in the first place.
It's not always a positive trait, of course – as lead researcher Nathaniel Daw points out, having high dopamine levels can sometimes lead to negative impulsive behaviour. He said the results "may help to explain some kinds of gambling and impulse control problems, and also aspects of mood disorders".
But there's no doubt that the apparent influence of dopamine reflects one of the key traits among some of the world's best business people – an inclination, and sometimes an addiction, to taking risks for financial gain.