A recent study of evolution of risk aversion from Michigan State University researchers discovered that it is part of our nature to play it safe when we take important decisions and the stakes are high. Decisions like choosing the right mate.
“Primitive humans were likely forced to bet on whether or not they could find a better mate,” said Chris Adami, MSU professor of microbiology and molecular genetics and co-author of the paper.
“They could either choose to mate with the first, potentially inferior, companion and risk inferior offspring, or they could wait for Mr. or Ms. Perfect to come around,” he said. “If they chose to wait, they risk never mating.”
Adami and his co-author Arend HIntze, MSU research associate has employed a computation format to trace risk-taking behavior with the assistance of digital organisms. These organisms were designed to make bets of high stakes that mirrors life changing decisions that has to be taken by all natural organisms and that includes choosing a life partner.
“An individual might hold out to find the perfect mate but run the risk of coming up empty and leaving no progeny,” Adami said. “Settling early for the sure bet gives you an evolutionary advantage, if living in a small group.”
Adami and his team have experimented with numerous variables influencing the risk-taking behavior and the outcome was that some particular conditions persuade our decision-making method. The decision has to be unique and once-in-a lifetime episodes, along with high return for the person’s upcoming prospects like reproducing children.
Our personal risk aversion correlated to the size of the group where we have been brought up. When raised in a small group, like less than 150 individuals, we are inclined to be much more risk averted compared to the ones in a larger community.
Research shows that primitive humans also lived in small groups of around 150 as resources seem to be scarcer in the minor communities, the environment assists in increasing risk aversion.
“We found that it is really the group size, not the total population size, which matters in the evolution of risk aversion,” Hintze said.
Although this rule does not apply for everyone and research also shows that evolution does not have just one particular way of managing risks, but as an alternative consents for a variety of less and at times more risky behaviors in order to evolve.
“We do not all evolve to be the same,” Adami said. “Evolution creates a diversity in our acceptance of risk, so you see some people who are more likely to take bigger risks than others. We see the same phenomenon in our simulations.”