A comparison of the risk-taking behaviors of prisoners and non-prisoners



Do prisoners and non-prisoners differ in their risk-taking behavior and the domains where they take risks? Surprisingly little psychological research has addressed these questions, despite the well-established paradigms and extensive literature on risk taking among non-prison populations. To fill this gap, we used the Domain-Specific Risk-Taking Scale to compare 75 male prisoners' and 75 male non-prisoners' risk-taking behavior, risk perception, and risk benefit in five domains (ethical, financial, health, recreational, and social). Our results show that prisoners and non-prisoners did not differ in their risk-taking behavior in the ethical, financial, recreational, or social domains. In the health domain, however, prisoners exhibited significantly higher risk-taking tendencies. With regard to risk perception, prisoners perceived activities as significantly more risky than non-prisoners, aside from the financial domain where non-prisoners reported significantly higher risk perception. In all five domains, prisoners perceived risk-taking activities as offering fewer benefits compared to the non-prisoner sample. Our results also indicate that risk-taking activities are better predicted by the expected benefits than by risk perception for both prisoners and non-prisoners in the recreational, financial, and ethical domains. However, for prisoners, risk taking in the social domain increased with level of perceived benefit. In the health domain, prisoners' risk taking decreased with increasing level of perceived risk, whereas for non-prisoners, perceived benefits, but not risk perception, predicted risk taking. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.