Why sometimes it is good to take risks and how to do it

Never as in these two years the word “risk“Has been on everyone’s lips, practically always: contagion risk, disease risk, recession risk, isolation risk and so on and so forth, given that the world seemed (seems?) a powder keg of heavy threats always ready to explode. But risk also animates less gloomy scenarios: thanks to the song by Mahmood and Blanco, winners of the seventy-second edition of the Sanremo Festival and sixth classified at Eurovision 2022, for example, we are called to reflect on the “Chills” caused by the fear of loving and getting involved.

265604In fact, despite communicative inflation, the risk, in its most truthful essence, continues to be a great unknown. Or rather, the great enemy to fight in an attempt to control it. There is no human conduct that can cancel it, however, the professor tells us Lucia Savadori, professor of general psychology at the University of Trento. It is therefore more pragmatic (and appropriate) to try to to use that much good in gambling to our advantageas he claims in the book To risk. When yes and when not in everyday life, of which she is co-author (published by Il Mulino, € 11).

Why is risk marked with a black sticker?

Because we tend to exchange it with the danger. But the two terms have different meanings. Both refer to an action, an event, a condition capable of generating unfavorable consequences, more or less serious. But while the risk is a probability assessment on the immediate and future implications that is based on uncertainty (the damage may or may not exist) and varies from person to person, the danger has objective characteristics: doing that certain thing is always malicious, regardless of our forecasts. It is the parallelism between driving safely and driving at crazy speed: the first can also be a risk, the other it is always a danger.

How do you define it, then?

Risk-taking is part of human nature, and it is an essential component of decision making. Facing a crossroads, if we don’t get involved, we get nothing! This is to affirm that not only those who climb the mountains, those who buy shares or those who gamble, but also the student who opts for a certain university course or the young person who starts a family are at risk.

On balance, every day we risk. What makes the difference is the way in which each of us faces a choice: if we think it could involve a loss we talk about risk, if we are convinced that it brings a gain (material or moral) we live it as an opportunity. This is why we psychologists define risk essentially as “a mental representation”.

We cannot calculate the degree of risk of any action, he is telling us …

The classic warning phrase: “this thing is scientifically proven to be risky or vice versa” it has no foundation. Of course, risk can be measured and converted into numbers, and there is a science involved in doing that. But this value is not a reality since, depending on the parameters used to calculate it, the result changes. In fact, there is no objective risk, no certain and universal table on which a person can base his actions and get safe. Risk as an absolute concept valid for all circumstances it is an invention of humanity.

Everyone has to make their own estimate, therefore?

Yes, deciding to take a risk is often a question of how you look at the situation, how you perceive the facts, overestimating or underestimating them. It is an individual cognitive process, it is we who create our mental risk map. It is an assumption that explains why people, sometimes, they fear activities that are not actually dangerous and are not, however, afraid of others that could have dramatic consequences. As proof that the subjective risk does not often coincide with the calculated one.

In this personal “balance sheet”, however, some generalized factors weigh: for example, we consider less risky activities on which we can exercise a lot of control (like the guide) or that we voluntarily choose to do or of which we recognize the benefits (like an x-ray).

What makes us capable or not to risk?

There is a genetic component and a learning component. The first is linked to a certain type of personality: the fearless have more positive expectations about a certain action and / or choice; the prudent are always afraid of losing something, they play defense. Experience is grafted onto this natural propensity, which plays an important role: when we are very familiar with a certain type of context, we increasingly lower our level of security, taking further risks. The young age (between 16 and 30 years) and the male sex also push the foot on the accelerator.

What is a risk-prone person like?

Attracted by the occasion. Her distinctive trait is that she responds very quickly to the question: “But what can I get out of this? “What could I like?” “What new sensations can I get?”. She is driven by the desire to have an advantage, a great motivation to throw herself into a certain enterprise. An individual who tends to evolve, always on the move. And that she enjoys great optimism.

Isn’t there the temptation for constant challenges?

The paratrooper who throws himself into the void risks a lot, the boy who drives in the night with the headlights off as well. Both are looking for the thrill but what makes the difference is the approach. Aware the extreme sports enthusiast (knows what he is doing and takes all possible precautions to reduce the dangers), impulsive and blind the reckless (he just wants to tempt fate and does not know what he can face).

In practice, when is it worth gambling?

The moment we hear of master the situation. Risk, if well considered, is an opportunity for growth, not a loss of conscience and responsibility. Among other things, in this path we are supported by our automatic risk management system, which is very well-established, efficient and allows us to do many things without calculations, such as cross the street at the right time.


According to some authoritative scholars such as the 2002 Nobel Prize in economics Daniel Kahneman, psychologist, a good strategy is follow our instincts and then take a break – not too long, however – to get information and examine what to do. It is a question of negotiating between emotionality and rationality. If, after counting to 10 we have not found absolutely contrary arguments, let’s act. The calculations are a robust armor and an extra weapon: we need both to face possible failures and further risks.

Is this the historical moment of risk or caution?

Our society has lost the taste for risk, all of us aiming to maintain the status quo of well-being that we had achieved in recent decades. But the Coronavirus has reshuffled the cards, and now it pushes us to take risks. It is right that it prods: the opportunities for social, cultural and professional change are there and they must be ridden. Weighing well, however, the possible losses.

More afraid after Covid-19?

“The pandemic has changed our perception of risk,” says Lucia Savadori. “But it wasn’t the presence of the virus itself that raised our fear threshold. This, in fact, is regulated by ancestral systems that do not change according to the type of danger we face. If anything, it is the emergency-induced lifestyle that it has reduced our range of experiences. The people, locked up at home, remained immature from a social, emotional and working point of view. And, not having had a chance to develop certain skills now they find it harder to cope with risky situations. We are like 12 year olds to whom life asks to do things in their 30s ».

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