Curry Risk

This column originally appeared in The Observer magazine/Guardian online

Do you like to play it safe or take risks? A 2016 study conducted at Nanjing University in China found that you can predict your risk-taking behaviour from your food preferences; specifically, from a single question: On a scale of 1 (strongly dislike) to 7 (strongly like), how much do you like spicy food?

Now look at the grid below to translate this into your risk-taking score

1-2 – Pretty tame

3 – Averagely risk taking

4-5 – You like to roll the dice now and again

6-7 – Woah, careful there!

That’s right! The study found that, even after controlling for (essentially matching respondents on) preference for sweet, sour and bitter tastes, love of spicy food was significantly correlated with degree of risk taking (as measured by a standard questionnaire) in five different domains: gambling, health and safety, dangerous sports, ethics and finance. Furthermore, in another part of the study, the researchers found that participants who had just eaten a piece of bread covered in chilli sauce took greater risks in a computerized gambling task than a control group given just the plain bread. The researchers put the link between risk taking and a love of spicy food down to what they call “benign masochism”: Whether it’s tucking into a chicken madras or riding a roller coaster, many of us enjoy the adrenaline rush that accompanies an apparent risk, even one that is – in reality – safely contained.

A fully referenced version of this article is available at benambridge.com. Order Psy-Q by Ben Ambridge (Profile Books, £8.99) for £6.99 at bookshop.theguardian.com

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