People are generally not all that happy about risk. As Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman has written, “For most people, the fear of losing $100 is more intense than the hope of gaining $150. [Amos Tversky and I] concluded from many such observations that ‘losses loom larger than gains’ and that people are loss averse.”
While the phenomenon of loss aversion has been well-documented, it’s worth noting that Kahneman himself refers to “most people” — not all — when describing its prevalence. According to 20 years of research conducted by Columbia University’s Tory Higgins, it might be more accurate to say that some of us are particularly risk-averse, not because we are neurotic, paranoid, or even lacking in self-confidence, but because we tend to see our goals as opportunities to maintain the status quo and keep things running smoothly. Higgins calls this a prevention focus, associated with a robust aversion to being wide-eyed and optimistic, making mistakes, and taking chances. The rest of us are promotion-focused, see our goals as opportunities to make progress and end up better off, and are not particularly averse to risky choices when they hold the potential for rich gains.
Studies from Columbia’s Motivation Science Center have shown that prevention-focused people work more slowly and deliberately, seek reliability over “coolness” or luxury in products, and prefer conservative investments to higher-yielding but less certain ones. Further research conducted by Harvard’s Francesca Gino and Joshua Margolis, indicates that prevention-focused people are more likely than the promotion-focused to behave ethically and honestly — not because they are more ethical per se, but because they fear that rule-breaking will land them in hot water.
They even drive differently. In one study, researchers at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands equipped customers of a Dutch insurance company with a GPS that was used to monitor their driving habits. The prevention-focused were, not surprisingly, less likely to speed than their promotion-focused fellow drivers. A second study showed that they also needed larger gaps between cars in order to feel comfortable merging.
More here – Harvard Business Review