The relation between state and trait risk taking and problem-solving

Abstract

People can solve problems in two main styles: through a methodical analysis, or by a sudden insight (also known as ‘Aha!’ or ‘Eureka!’ experience). Analytical solutions are achieved primarily with conscious deliberation in a trial-and-error fashion. ‘Aha!’ moments, instead, happen suddenly, often without conscious deliberation and are considered a critical facet of creative cognition. Previous research has indicated an association between creativity and risk taking (a personality trait); however, few studies have investigated how a short-term situational state of risk modulates these two different problem-solving styles. In this research, we looked at how both state and trait risks taking is related to different problem-solving styles. To measure risk as a personality trait, we administered the Balloon Analog Risk Task. To investigate risk as a state, we created a scenario, where people had to bet on their problem-solving performance at the beginning of each trial, and we compared the performance of this group with a control group that did not have to bet. The results show no association between risk as a trait and problem-solving style; however, the risk state scenario did produce a shift in dominant problem-solving style with participants in the risk scenario group solving more problems via analysis. We also found that two factors are related to problem-solving accuracy: the amount bet (i.e., when people place higher bets, they solve more problems), and success on the previous trial, especially if the solution was achieved via analysis. Furthermore, the data reveal that when under risk, females are better problem solvers than males.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The instructions about this ratio read as: “The explosion point varies across balloons, ranging from the first pump to the 128th pump. The ideal number of pumps is 64. What that means is that if you were to make the same number of pumps on every balloon, your best strategy would be to make 64 pumps for every balloon. This would give you the most money over a long period of time. However, the actual number of pumps for any particular balloon will vary, so the best overall strategy may not be the best strategy for any one balloon.”

  2. 2.

    No main effects within or between groups were found.

  3. 3.

    No main effects within or between groups were found.

  4. 4.

    One possible explanation is that participants bet differently on the two tasks because they viewed outcomes in the BART as based on luck but viewed outcomes in the CRA task as based on ability.

  5. 5.

    Because we transformed the data in a continuous variable we did not need to exclude those two participants who reported solving too few problems via either insight or analysis.

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Acknowledgements

We thank the two reviewers and the Editor for their constructive criticisms on the earlier draft of this article, and for motivating further analysis that allowed us to find unpredicted results. This work was supported by NIH under Grant no. T32 NS047987 to CS.

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Correspondence to Carola Salvi.

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Salvi, C., Bowden, E. The relation between state and trait risk taking and problem-solving. Psychological Research 84, 1235–1248 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00426-019-01152-y

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