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Do Psychological Shocks Affect Financial Risk Taking Behavior? A Study of U.S. Veterans

Bogan, Vicki L., Just, David R. and Wansink, Brian, “Do Psychological Shocks Affect Financial Risk Taking Behavior? A Study of U.S. Veterans” Contemporary Economic Policy 31 (3), 457-467. July 2013. – Lead article

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Experiencing a trauma or psychological shock such as a war or natural disaster has been associated with significant long-term mental health issues and has been shown to influence a variety of human behaviors. Specifically, recent evidence shows that experiencing certain types of financial shocks can have an effect on an individual's risk taking behavior. For instance, it has been shown that experiencing a macroeconomic shock affects an individual's willingness to take financial risks and to make certain types of financial investments.

Vicki L. Bogan and David R. Just

We analyze how traumatic experiences that are not directly connected to the financial sector affect investment behavior. Using combat experience as a proxy for all non-finance related traumatic experiences; we explore how combat experiences influence the probability of veterans investing in risky financial assets. After controlling for physical health issues and other individual characteristics that have previously been shown to influence investment behavior, we find that combat is associated with a 14 - 18 percent decrease in the probability of veterans holding risky assets (stock and mutual funds) and find no significant correlation between combat experience and the probability of veterans holding safe assets.

Brian Wansink with a World War II military medal.

Given portfolio choices of stock historically have been critical to economic advancement and wealth-building, combat could influence veteran preferences for financial risk taking in a sub-optimal manner. Hence, this suggests that the combat experiences of veterans are important to consider with regard to determining and managing veterans benefits. More generally, since our results cannot be explained as a response to a shock that provides increased economic or financial information, our paper also provides insights into how traumatic life experiences can bias financial decision making behavior.

Article Summary by Vicki L. Bogan
Full text paper: (Here)

Brian Wansink, PhD
Food and Brand Lab, Director
110 Warren Hall
Cornell University
Ithaca, NY 14853