Breakthrough in guessing the risk of popping a balloon

A possible huge breakthrough of some sort, yielding important insights of some variety, may be reported in this study in which 64 students (actually it was 66, but “Data from two participants were removed due to a failure to follow instructions”) were asked to guess when a balloon would pop:

Photo by Matt Cashore/University of Notre DameKnowing Where to Draw the Line: Perceptual Differences between Risk-takers and Non-Risk-Takers,” Adam T. Biggs, Paul C. Stey, Christopher C. Davoli, Daniel Lapsley [pictured here], James R. Brockmole, PLoS ONE, March 17, 2014, 9(3): e91880, (Thanks to investigator Joe Turner for bringing this to our attention.) The authors, at Duke University, the University of Notre Dame, and Central Michigan University, explain:

“Participants were provided an objective task to measure individual differences in the perception of physical dimensions (i.e., actual size of a balloon) versus the perception of risk (i.e., size at which the balloon would explode)….

“There were 29 different balloons which each exploded at a random point, and the dependent variables of interest were the number of pumps per un-popped balloon and the number of popped balloons. The BART task typically includes 30 different balloons, although computer error caused the last trial of each session to be lost—thus leaving 29 total balloons….


“The critical impact is that inaccurate perceptual judgments can lead to a poor decision to engage in risky behaviors…. In conclusion, this study extends the evidence that perceptual judgments are subject to a myriad of influences.”


BONUS: The test upon which this rock was built: The Balloon Analogue Risk Task (BART) (Thanks to investigator Matt Hodgkinson for pointing it out.)