Chronotype mediates gender differences in risk propensity and risk-taking

PLoS One. 2019 May 23;14(5):e0216619. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0216619. eCollection 2019.


Risk-taking is a complex form of decision-making that involves calculated assessments of potential costs and rewards that may be immediate or delayed. Thus, making predictions about inter-individual variation in risk-taking due to personality traits, decision styles or other attributes can be difficult. The association of risk-taking with gender is well-supported; males report higher propensity for risk-taking and show higher risk-taking on tasks measuring actual risk-taking behavior. Risk-taking also appears to be associated with circadian phenotypes (chronotypes), with evening-types reporting higher levels of risk-taking-but this association may be confounded by the fact that, in certain age groups, males are more likely to be evening-types. Here, we test for gender by chronotype effects on risk-taking in young adults (n = 610) using a self-reported risk propensity questionnaire, the health domain of the DOSPERT, and a behavioral task measuring risk-taking, the Balloon Analog Risk Task (BART). Our results show that males report and take significantly more risks than females in this population. In addition, evening-type individuals have significantly higher self-reported risk propensity and tend to take more risks on the BART. Interestingly, there is no significant difference in risk propensity or risk-taking behavior across male circadian phenotypes, but evening-type females significantly report and take more risk than female intermediate and morning types. In regression analyses, we found both gender and chronotype predict risk propensity and risk-taking. Path analysis confirms that chronotype has an indirect effect on gender differences in both risk propensity and risk-taking. Furthermore, we found that trait anxiety (STAI) and sleep disturbance (PROMIS), significantly correlate with chronotype and gender in the complete dataset, but do not independently predict differences in female risk-taking. These results suggest that chronotype mediates gender effects on risk-taking and that these effects are driven primarily by morning-type females, but are not related to gender-specific differences in trait anxiety or sleep quality.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Anxiety Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Circadian Rhythm*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Risk-Taking*
  • Sex Factors
  • Sleep Wake Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Young Adult

Grants and funding

This research was funded by a Picker Interdisciplinary Science Institute grant to KKI and AF. The funder had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.