University Researchers to Watch Game Show – Who Wants to be a Millionaire? to discover what people feel about risk

Researchers at the Universities of Warwick and Keele are being supported by the Economic and Social Research Council to watch the popular game show Who Wants to be a Millionaire? The globally broadcast show is a treasure trove of data on how all sorts of people of different ages and genders and nationalities perceive and act on risk.

One of the researchers, economist Professor Ian Walker from the University of Warwick said:

“Many decisions involve weighing up potential gains and losses whose magnitudes are uncertain and where the risks are large. Most obviously this happens in financial markets where people make decisions about investing money.

But it’s not just money – knowing how people feel about risk is central to a wide range of government policies from building motorways to providing health care. Governments are in the business for reducing the risks that we cannot easily insure against. The risks of being mugged, catching a disease, and even the “risk” of living a long time are just a few examples – and these motivate governments to provide police, immunisation programmes, and pensions. Policy makers need to know how much we value decreases in risk – without knowing this they cannot invest in the right amount of risk reduction.”

Real world evidence on the extent to which people are prepared to trade money for risk is hard to find – but almost three years of exactly that sort on information has been accumulated from the broadcasts of Who Wants to be a Millionaire?

The research team will examine a number of questions such as are there differences in the value attached to risk by players of different age, nationality or gender (women are underrepresented in the game and seem to do marginally worse – they win about 5% less than men), age, and by wealth, or are people more averse to losing money than not winning it.

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