An investigation of risk homeostasis in a laboratory environment

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Virginia Tech

This study investigated whether risk compensation behavior would occur during a chemistry experiment due to the presence of protective equipment. This study also examined whether a homeostatic regulating mechanism exists for risk-taking behavior. Risk compensation and a homeostatic regulating mechanism for risk-taking behavior are both encompassed within the Risk Homeostasis Theory, which states that people accurately perceive and fully compensate for changes in risk.

Thirty-six subjects performed three trials of a short chemistry experiment either with protective equipment or without protective equipment during the first of two sessions. After the first session, half the subjects were required to switch from wearing protective equipment to not wearing protective equipment, or from not wearing protective equipment to wearing protective equipment. The time required to complete the task, the number of errors committed, and subtask measurement accuracy were tabulated.

Between-subject analyses did not reveal risk compensation behavior. Moreover, within-subject comparisons failed to show a significant risk compensation effect or the presence of a homeostatic regulating mechanism for risk-taking behavior. The results suggested that the Risk Homeostasis Theory may not explain sufficiently changes in behavior due to increases (or decreases) in perceived risk. The limitations of the present study were discussed. Suggestions and examples for research on different aspects of the Risk Homeostasis Theory were also provided.