ISSN 1671-3710
CN 11-4766/R

Advances in Psychological Science ›› 2017, Vol. 25 ›› Issue (3): 486-499.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1042.2017.00486

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Risk-sensitivity theory: Need motivates risky decision-making

SONG Yunqiang; XU Ruiheng; XING Cai   

  1. (Department of Psychology, Renmin University of China, Beijing 100872, China)
  • Received:2016-03-22 Online:2017-03-15 Published:2017-03-15
  • Contact: XING Cai, E-mail:


Risk-sensitivity theory, which is based on experimental examination of the foraging behavior of animals, proposes that decision makers shift from risk aversion to risk preference in situations of need. As a biological theory of decision making, predications based on risk sensitivity theory has been supported by both animal studies and studies involve human participants. Existing evidence suggests that risk-sensitivity theory can account for various patterns of decision-making in a wide range of domains. It’s necessary to provide a systematic review of risk-sensitivity theory, including its theoretical speculation, main arguments, and development of mathematical models. Distinctions among risk sensitivity theory and other well- established theories were also speculated in consideration of the reference point. Risk-sensitivity theory contributes to the literature as it provides additional explanations for shifts in individuals’ risk taking tendencies under a wide range of situational factors, including changes in economic inequality and power.

Key words: Risk-sensitivity theory, need, reference point, economic inequality, power