He that is over-cautious will accomplish little.
Friedrich Von Schiller
German poet, philosopher, historian, and playwright
Individuals who psychologists describe as “risk takers” are generally identified as being at-risk for a number of dangerous or maladaptive behaviors, including high risk sex, gambling, substance use disorders. However, frequent or high risk takers may be a heterogeneous group, and as a result, it may be difficult to know whether a tendency to take risks is uniformly associative with negative behavior. In order to avoid confounding factors resulting from simply comparing maladaptive risk takers (e.g., antisocial individuals) to a healthy comparison group, Levenson (1990) examined three different groups of risk takers using discriminant function analysis. This study found that a group of rock climbers had high levels of sensation seeking and moral reasoning, drug unit residents were high on antisocial function (e.g., emotionality, psychopathy), and police and firemen decorated for safety had different profiles than both other groups. These results suggest that differences in risk taking behaviors may be, in part, related to the motivation for risk taking behavior. Some groups of individuals who have taken great risks have done so from an arguably purely altruistic motivation. For example, Jewish individuals who rescued others during the Holocaust were compared to bystanders and individuals who emigrated from Europe prior to World War II (Midlarsky, Fagin Jones, & Corley, 2005). The rescuers scored higher on risk taking than both the bystander and immigrant group. Notably, these individuals not only differed in risk taking, but also social responsibility, empathic concern, and moral reasoning. Thus, risk taking behavior may indeed be a positive act, and one’s tendency to engage in such behavior is likely to be context dependent. Thus, being a risk taker can be both positive and negative, and contextual, personality, and social factors may be tipping factors for how one uses such a proclivity to take risks and explore the boundaries of the environment.