Can your genes predict your risk-taking behavior?

Raised of $4,950 Goal
Ended on 1/12/19
Campaign Ended
  • $275
  • 6%
  • Finished
    on 1/12/19

About This Project

Unintentional injury due to risk-taking is a leading cause of death in the U.S. and places large burdens on society. We know that risk-taking is influenced by hormone response to stress. Variations of oxytocin receptor gene OXTR rs53576 influence stress sensitivity, and are influenced by social contexts. We hypothesize that GG-allele carriers will take less risks than A-allele carriers, but that this will be reversed when stressed. Results are expected to be influenced by sex and demographics.

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What is the context of this research?

The adaptive calibration model of stress responsivity has indicated that behaviors (including risk-taking) can vary based on biological response to environment. Further, stress sensitivity and risk-taking propensity can be influenced by early relationships with parents, and emotion regulation. Emerging studies indicate that stress responsivity and sensitivity to social relationships can vary based on the oxytocin receptor gene OXTR rs53576. Because many of the unintentional injuries caused by risk-taking can lead to death, and are seen to be more prevalent in areas of high-stress, the current study is designed to understand how the relationship between stress, social relationships, and risk-taking can be moderated by OXTR rs53576.

What is the significance of this project?

Research has indicated that risk-taking is linked to both hormonal and social environmental cues, but research designed to understand the genetic underpinning of risk-taking is lacking and unintentional injury is still one of the leading causes of death today. To the best of our knowledge, this project will be one of the first studies to examine the role of the oxytocin receptor gene (OXTR rs53576) in risk-taking behaviors.

The findings from this project will provide an improved understanding of the influence of biological and environmental factors. If our hypothesis is supported, the results may allow for practitioners to create more effective prevention education programs to promote healthy societies by reducing the levels of risk-taking behaviors that lead to serious injury, infection.

What are the goals of the project?

Our first hypothesis is that there will be a significant difference in risk-taking between participants in the stress and no-stress groups. Male participants in the stress group will engage in more risk-taking than participants in the no-stress groups. This will be reversed for females. We expect the relationship between stress and risk-taking to be mediated by cortisol secretion and moderated by OXTR rs53576.

Our second hypothesis is that relationships with parents will mediate the cortisol secretion during the stressor and risk-taking tasks. We expect that participants reporting more parental warmth will engage in more emotion regulation and less risk-taking when exposed to stressors. We expect that the influence of parent-child relationships will differ based on OXTR rs53576.


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We are asking for $4,950 for the analysis of the DNA component of our study. While the supplies to collect DNA are not expensive and have been paid for using small research grants and scholarships through Oklahoma State University, DNA analysis is critical for the success of the study and the study cannot be completed without additional funding.

The $4,950 will be used to assist with the cost of the following three items:

1) The overnight shipment of 150 collected DNA samples to Salimetrics Laboratories in State College, PA

2) Materials needed for the single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) analysis that will occur after DNA extraction.

3) To pay the scientist provided by Salimetrics Laboratories who will extract and conduct the SNP analyses on the 150 collected DNA samples. A total of $2,000 is requested because Salimetrics charges $250 per unit of scientist time and eight units of scientist time are needed to have all samples analyzed.

Endorsed by

This project will yield important results, shedding new light on the biological basis of risk-taking and how one's biological predispositions toward risk-taking may be modified by early childhood environment. The researcher is a rising star in developmental psychobio research. Please take a moment to consider supporting this worthy project!
This exciting project will help us better understand the determinants of risk-taking behavior, and its costs and benefits.

Project Timeline

Our project began data collection in the Spring of 2018. Using a University SONA system, we have almost completed data collection on 150 participants. Our next step is to analyze the DNA and cortisol components of the study. We plan to have our manuscript submitted by May 2019. We will provide backers with a manuscript copy of our results at this time.

Jan 23, 2018

IRB approval 

Mar 15, 2018

Begin data collection

Nov 28, 2018

Project Launched

Dec 01, 2018

Complete data collection

Jan 01, 2019

Begin cortisol assays / send DNA samples to be analyzed

Meet the Team

Erin Wood
Erin Wood
Graduate Student


Oklahoma State University, Department of Psychology
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Team Bio

This project will be conducted by members of the Cognitive Science Laboratory at Oklahoma State University. Our team is conducted of a group of undergraduate students who are interested in the biological and social basis of behavior. More information about our team can be found here.

Erin Wood

My name is Erin Wood, and I am a graduate student at Oklahoma State University. I am a third year student in the Experimental Psychology Ph.D Program with options in development and comparative neurobiology studying under Dr. Shelia Kennison. As a developmental psychologist in training, my recent research has focused on the role that parents play in the development of risk-taking of their early childhood-aged and young adult children. Although parents play a large role in the development of risk-taking behaviors, by increasing my exposure to the literature in the field in my graduate training, I have realized that many of our behaviors are influenced by our biology. By taking a biopsychological approach to risk-taking I hope to find better explanations to the relationships between parents and children to promote resiliency and health.

In addition to conducting research to promote resiliency and health, I also have a passion for mentorship. As the laboratory manager for the Cognitive Science Laboratory, I am active in encouraging underrepresented populations to enter into STEM research careers by mentoring females, minorities, non-traditional, and first generation students. As a mentor, I encourage my students to present at research conferences, apply for scholarships and grants, or enter into their own graduate programs. My hope that is that my research will not only benefit science by providing a deeper understanding of the biological underpinnings of human behavior, but I hope that my research will also inspire my undergraduate research assistants to pursue graduate education in STEM fields to further expand the field of psychology.

You can learn more about me here. My published work can be found here.

Additional Information

While this project has been inspired by many previous research projects, references for the articles included in the hyperlinks above can be found here:

Barel, E., Shahrabani, S., & Tzischinsky (2017). Sex hormone/cortisol ratios differentially modulate risk-taking in men and women. Evolutionary Psychology, 1-10, Doi: 10.1177/1474704917697333.

Bradley, B., Westen, D., Mercer, K.B., Binder, E.B., Jovanovic, T., Crain, D., Wingo, A., & Heim, C. (2011). Association between childhood maltreatment and adult emotional dysregulation in a low-income, urban, African American sample: Moderation by oxytocin receptor gene. Development and Psychopathology, 23(2), 439-452. Doi: 10.1177/1948550611405854

Braza, P., Carreras, R., Munoz, J.M., Braza, F., Azurmendi, A., Pascual-Sagastizabal, E., Cardas, J., & Sanchez-Martin, J.R. (2015). Negative maternal and paternal parenting styles as predictors of children’s behavioral problems: Moderating effects of the child’s sex. Journal of Child Family Studies, 24, 847-857.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2014). National hospital ambulatory medical care survey: 2014 emergency department summary tables. Retrieved from

Cubbin, C., LeClere, F. B., & Smith, G. S. (2000). Socioeconomic status and injury mortality: individual and neighbourhood determinants. Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, 54(7), 517-524.

Del Giudice, M., Ellis, B. J., & Shirtcliff, E. A. (2011). The adaptive calibration model of stress responsivity. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 35(7), 1562-1592.

Kapungu, C. T., Holmbeck, G. N., & Paikoff, R. L. (2006). Longitudinal association between parenting practices and early sexual risk behaviors among urban African American adolescents: The moderating role of gender. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 35(5), 783-794.

Kennison, S.M., Wood, E.E., Byrd-Craven, J., & Downing, M.L. (2016). Financial and ethical risk-taking by young adults: A role for family dynamics during childhood. Cogent Economics & Finance, 4, Doi: 10.1080/23322039.2016.1232225

Kim. H.S., Sherman, D.K., Mojaverian, T., Sasaki, J.Y., Park, J., Suh, E.M., and Taylor, S.E. (2011). Culture interaction: Oxytocin receptor polymorphism (OXTR) and emotion regulation. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 2(6), 665-672. Doi: 10.1177/1948550611405854

Kumsta, R. & Heinrichs, M. (2013). Oxytocin, stress and social behavior: neurogenetics of the human oxytocin system. Current Opinion in Neurobiology, 23, 11-16. Doi: 10.1016/j.conb.2012.09.004

Lighthall, N.R., Mather, M., & Gorlick, M.A. (2009). Acute stress increases sex differences in risk seeking in the Balloon Analogue Risk Task. Plops ONE, 4(7): e6002. Doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0006002

Lunkenheimer, E., Hollenstein, J., Wang, J., Shields, A.M. (2012). Flexibility and attractors in context: Family emotion socialization patterns and children’s emotion regulation in late childhood. Nonlinear Dynamics, Psychology, and Life Sciences.16(3), 269-291.

Massey-Abernathy, A. (2017). From oxytocin to health: Exploring the relationship between OXTR rs53576, emotional stability, social support, and health. Adaptive Human Behavior and Physiology, 3(3), 212-220. Doi: 10.1007/s40750-017-0063-2

Mather, M., & Lighthall, N.R. (2012). Both risk and reward are processed differently in decisions made under stress. Current Directions in Psychological Science. 21(2). 36-41. Doi: 10.1177/0963721411429452

Mehta, P., Welker, K.M. Zilioli, S. & Carre, J.M. (2015). Testosterone and cortisol jointly modulate risk-taking. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 56, 88-99. Doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2015.02.023

Preston, S.D., Buchanan, T.W., Stansfield, R.B., & Bechara, A. (2007); Effects of anticipatory stress on decision making in a gambling task. Behavioral Neuroscience. 121(2), 257-263. Doi: 10.1037/0737-7044.121.2.257

Raffaelli, M., & Crockett, L. J. (2003). Sexual Risk Taking in Adolescence: The Role of Self-Regulation and Attraction to Risk. Developmental Psychology, 39(6), 1036-1046. Doi: 10.1037/0012-1649.39.6.1036

Robinson, L.R., Morris, A.S., Heller, S.S., Scheeringa, M.S., Boris, N.W., & Smyke, A.T. (2009) Relations between emotion regulation, parenting, and psychopathology in young maltreated children in out of home care. Journal of Family Studies, 18, 421-434. Doi: 10.1007/s10826-008-9246-6

Rodrigues, S.M., Saslow, L.R., Garcia, N., John, O.P., & Keltner, D. (2009). Oxytocin receptor genetic variation relates to empathy and stress reactivity in humans. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 106(50), 21437-21441. Doi: 10.1073/pnas.0909579106

Tost, H., Kolachana, B., Jakimi, S., Lemaitre, H., Lemaitre, H., Verchinski, B.A., Mattay, V.S., Weinberger, D.R., & Meyer-Lindenberg, A. (2010). A common allele in the oxytocin receptor gene (OXTR) impacts prosocial temperament and human hypothalamic-limbic structure and function. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, 107(31), 13936-13941.

Van den Bos, Ruud; Harteveld, M., & Stoop, H. (2009). Stress and decision-making in humans: Performance is related to cortisol reactivity, albeit differently in men and women. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 34, 1449-1458. doi:10.1016/j.psyneuen.2009.04.016

Wang, X. T., Kruger, D. J., & Wilke, A. (2009). Life history variables and risk-taking propensity. Evolution and Human Behavior, 30(2), 77-84. Doi: 10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2008.09.006

Wood, E.E. & Kennison, S.M. (2017). Young children;s risk-taking: Mothers’ authoritarian parenting predicts risk-taking by daughters but not sons. Child Development Research. Doi: 10.1155/2017/3719358.

Project Backers

  • 8Backers
  • 6%Funded
  • $275Total Donations
  • $34.38Average Donation
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