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Predicting (un)healthy behavior: A comparison of risk-taking propensity measures

  • Helena Szrek
  • Li-Wei Chao
  • Shandir Ramlagan
  • Karl Peltzer
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    We compare four different risk-taking propensity measures on their ability to describe and to predict actual risky behavior in the domain of health. The risk-taking propensity measures we compare are: (1) a general measure of risk-taking propensity derived from a one-item survey question (Dohmen et al., 2011), (2) a risk aversion index calculated from a set of incentivized monetary gambles (Holt & Laury, 2002), (3) a measure of risk taking derived from an incentive compatible behavioral task---the Balloon Analog Risk Task (Lejuez et al., 2002), and (4) a composite score of risk-taking likelihood in the health domain from the Domain-Specific Risk Taking (DOSPERT) scale (Weber et al., 2002). Study participants are 351 clients of health centers around Witbank, South Africa. Our findings suggest that the one-item general measure is the best predictor of risky health behavior in our population, predicting two out of four behaviors at the 5% level and the remaining two behaviors at the 10% level. The DOSPERT score in the health domain performs well, predicting one out of four behaviors at the 1% significance level and two out of four behaviors at the 10% level, but only if the DOSPERT instrument contains a hypothetical risk-taking item that is similar to the actual risky behavior being predicted. Incentivized monetary gambles and the behavioral task were unrelated to actual health behaviors; they were unable to predict any of the risky health behaviors at the 10% level. We provide evidence that this is not because the participants had trouble understanding the monetary trade-off questions or performed poorly in the behavioral task. We conclude by urging researchers to further test the usefulness of the one-item general measure, both in explaining health related risk-taking behavior and in other contexts.

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    Article provided by Society for Judgment and Decision Making in its journal Judgment and Decision Making.

    Volume (Year): 7 (2012)
    Issue (Month): 6 (November)
    Pages: 716-727

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    Handle: RePEc:jdm:journl:v:7:y:2012:i:6:p:716-727
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    1. Dohmen, Thomas J. & Falk, Armin & Huffman, David & Sunde, Uwe & Schupp, Jürgen & Wagner, Gert G., 2011. "Individual risk attitudes: Measurement, determinants, and behavioral consequences," Munich Reprints in Economics 20048, University of Munich, Department of Economics.
    2. Anderson, Lisa R. & Mellor, Jennifer M., 2008. "Predicting health behaviors with an experimental measure of risk preference," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 27(5), pages 1260-1274, September.
    3. Charness, Gary & Viceisza, Angelino, 2011. "Comprehension and risk elicitation in the field: Evidence from rural Senegal," IFPRI discussion papers 1135, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).
    4. Camerer, Colin F & Hogarth, Robin M, 1999. "The Effects of Financial Incentives in Experiments: A Review and Capital-Labor-Production Framework," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 19(1-3), pages 7-42, December.
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