CAE Reading and Use of English Part 8
You are going to read an article about risk taking. For questions 47-56, choose from the sections of the article (A-D). The sections may be chosen more than once. When more than one answer is required, these may be given in any order.
In which section of the article is the following mentioned?
47 the use of car imagery to help explain neural activity?
48 mention of one person’s interest in the history of risk taking?
49 details of the process used to investigate the brain’s mechanics?
50 a chemical-based explanation as to why people have such varied attitudes towards risk taking?
51 a well-known theory that explains why people take risks during everyday activities?
52 specific examples of what a person could lose if risk taking goes wrong?
53 mention of a common confusion about the chemical causes of risky behaviour?
54 a judgement of another person’s stated belief about risk taking?
55 a reference to the fact that some people become addicted to the chemical reaction experienced in risk taking?
56 a description of a biological process initiated by fear in humans?
The Mystery of Risk
Jodie O’Rourke reviews current thinking about what lies behind risk taking
Exploration of all sorts is rooted in the notion of taking risks. Risk underlies any journey into the unknown, whether it is a ship captain’s voyage into uncharted seas, a scientist’s research on dangerous diseases, or an entrepreneur’s investment in a new venture. Some of the motivations for taking risks are obvious – financial reward, fame, political gain, saving lives. But as the danger increases, the number of people willing to go forward shrinks, until the only ones who remain are the extreme risk takers. This is the mystery of risk: what makes some humans willing to jeopardize their reputation, fortune, and life and to continue to do so, even in the face of dire consequences? Scientists have now begun to open up the neurological black box containing the mechanisms for risk taking and tease out the biological factors that may prompt someone to become an explorer. Their research has centred on neurotransmitters, the chemicals that control communication in the brain.
One neurotransmitter that is crucial to the risk taking equation is dopamine, which helps control motor skills but also helps drive us to seek out and learn new things as well as process emotions such as anxiety and fear. Robust dopamine production holds one of the keys to understanding risk taking, says Larry Zweifel, a neurobiologist at the University of Washington. ‘When you’re talking about someone who takes risks to accomplish something, that’s driven by motivation, and motivation is driven by the dopamine system. This is what compels humans to move forward.’ Dopamine helps elicit a sense of satisfaction when we accomplish tasks: the riskier the task, the larger the hit of dopamine. Part of the reason we don’t all climb mountains is that we don’t all have the same amount of dopamine. Molecules on the surface of nerve cells called autoreceptors control how much dopamine we make and use, essentially controlling our appetite for risk.
In a study conducted at Vanderbilt University, participants underwent scans allowing scientists to observe the autoreceptors in the part of the brain circuitry associated with reward, addiction, and movement. People who had fewer autoreceptors – that is, who had freer flowing dopamine – were more likely to engage in novelty-seeking behaviour, such as exploration. ‘Think of dopamine like gasoline,’ says neuropsychologist David Zald, the study’s lead author. ‘You combine that with a brain equipped with a lesser ability to put on the brakes than normal, and you get people who push limits.’ This is where the discussion often mixes up risk takers with thrill seekers or adrenaline junkies. The hormone adrenaline is designed to help us escape from danger. It works like this: When the brain perceives a threat, it triggers the release of adrenaline into the bloodstream, which in turn stimulates the heart, lungs, muscles, and other parts of the body to help us flee or fight in a life-threatening situation. This release generates a feeling of exhilaration that continues after the threat has passed, as the adrenaline clears from the system. For some people, that adrenaline rush can become a reward the brain seeks. They are prompted to induce it by going to scary movies or engaging in extreme sports.
Acclimating to risk is something we all do in our daily lives. A good example of this occurs when learning to drive a car. At first, a new driver may fear traveling on freeways, but over time that same driver with more experience will merge casually into speeding traffic with little consideration for the significant potential dangers. What is commonly referred to as the ‘familiarity principle’ can also be applied to help explain the lack of fear associated with high-risk situations. By practising an activity, humans can become used to the risk and manage the fear that arises in those situations. The notion that we are all descended from risk takers fascinates writer Paul Salopek. ‘Early humans leaving the Great Rift Valley in Africa thousands of years ago were the first great explorers,’ he reasons. ‘At our innermost core we are all risk takers. And this shared willingness to explore our planet has bound our species from the very beginning.’ It’s a noble idea, albeit a dopamine-based one!