Women take fewer risks than men around babies, even if it is not their child, scientists have discovered.

The team, made up of scientists from the University of Warwick and the University of Basel in Switzerland, used a simple gambling game to test whether women or men would take risks. In the test, 80 students were paired with an image of a man, woman or baby, and told that they would be splitting the winnings with this person. The participants would then blow up a virtual balloon and accumulate cash. However, the balloon could burst randomly at any moment, and if that happened, the participant lost any winnings they'd accumulated.

Writing in the journal Evolution and Human Behaviour, the scientists found that women were significantly more cautious when partnered with the baby's image.

Dr Thomas Hills, of the Department of Psychology at the University of Warwick, said: "To our knowledge this is the first study to look directly at the effect of babies on male and female risk-taking.

"Our attitudes to risk form a big part of our personality and determine our behaviour in all sorts of areas - for example how we approach financial investments or what leisure activities we indulge in.

"Even though the women in the study were not the mothers of the babies they paired with, just having a baby involved in the game was enough to substantially change their behaviour.

"It's as if babies turn off women's a willingness to take a risk - but interestingly the same doesn't apply to men."

Story posted by Robert Mair on 18/4/2012