Priming memories of past wins induces risk seeking

J Exp Psychol Gen. 2015 Feb;144(1):24-9. doi: 10.1037/xge0000046. Epub 2014 Dec 22.


People are often risk averse when making decisions under uncertainty. When those decisions are based on past experience, people necessarily rely on their memories. Thus, what is remembered at the time of the choice should influence risky choice. We tested this hypothesis by priming memory for past outcomes in a simple risky-choice task. In the task, people repeatedly chose between a safe option and a risky option that paid off with a larger or smaller reward with a 50/50 chance. Some trials were preceded by a priming cue that was previously paired with one of the outcomes. We found that priming cues associated with wins caused people to become risk seeking, whereas priming cues associated with relative losses had little effect. These results suggest that people can be induced to be more risk seeking through subtle reminders of previous winning experiences.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Association Learning
  • Choice Behavior*
  • Color Perception*
  • Cues
  • Decision Making*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Recall*
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual
  • Repetition Priming*
  • Reward
  • Risk-Taking*
  • Uncertainty
  • Young Adult