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Weighing risks, convicts display blind spots

Serious offenders insensitive to upsides as well as potential losses

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6:14pm, October 26, 2010

Men imprisoned for murder and other serious offenses have a well-earned reputation for taking dangerous risks. But their problems with risk assessment go deeper than that, a new study finds.

Relative to men who haven’t been incarcerated, prisoners generally have a harder time assessing the probability of big gains as well as harsh losses, says psychologist Thorsten Pachur of the University of Basel, Switzerland, who conducted the investigation with Yaniv Hanoch and Michaela Gummerum, both psychologists at the University of Plymouth in England. In experimental lotteries, prisoners display little appreciation of the benefits they stand a good chance of winning and frequently opt for smaller but sure rewards, Pachur and his colleagues conclude in the October Psychonomic Bulletin and Review.

If prisoners generally don’t appreciate or consider the consequences of risky options, “increasing punishment will not necessarily be successful in reduci

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