Study: Risky behavior is "contagious"

Countless parents have asked their kids, “If your friends jumped off a bridge, would you do it, too?”

And although it’s unclear exactly when in human history the first child might have rolled her eyes in response to this query, it does turn out that moms and dads are right to worry: The influence of those around us can affect decisions we make about risk-taking, according to a new study.

In the study, researchers analyzed the behavior of people who risked money (not personal safety) and found that after observing risky behavior in others, people were more likely to take risks themselves.

Social scientists use the term “behavioral contagion” to explain the phenomenon of people shifting their beliefs, opinions, or emotional states to conform with those expressed by others around them, said Shinsuke Suzuki, a co-author of the study and a postdoctoral scholar in neuroscience at the California Institute of Technology.

The new study shows that people can “catch” a tendency toward risky behavior based on proximity to people who are risk-seeking, Suzuki told Live Science in an email.