Adolescent Risk-Taking: Peer Presence and the Validity of a Laboratory-Based Measure
From a public health perspective, adolescence is a very risky period of development. Morbidity and mortality rates double during adolescence (Dahl, 2004); this increase is due primarily to changes in behaviour. In particular, adolescents are more likely than adults to engage in dangerous driving, unprotected sex, excessive alcohol consumption, drug taking, delinquency, and other high-risk behaviours. What is it about the adolescent period that makes people take more risks? Some researchers have hypothesised that changes in the adolescent brain contribute to the incidence of risky behaviour. Other researchers have developed psychosocial models to explain adolescent risk-taking, including examining the roles of personality and peer influence on adolescent risk-taking. The overarching goal of the present thesis was to further explore the effect of peer presence on risk taking measured using a laboratory-based task, Chicken. To do this, we recruited adolescent (12 – 16 year olds) and adult (23 – 49 year olds) participants to bring two same-age, same-sex friends in with them to the laboratory to play Chicken. Our results showed no significant difference between adolescent and adult risk scores when playing the Chicken game in front of their peers. Our Chicken data were highly consistent with Gardner and Steinberg’s (2005) data for their White (Caucasian) samples. Additionally, we found significant age- and sex-related differences on real-life risk behaviour as measured on the Life Experiences Questionnaires. Adults had higher LEQ scores than did adolescents; there was also a significant interaction whereby adolescent females scored higher than adolescent males, but this trend was reversed for adults. Our results are discussed with a view to questioning the validity of Chicken and identifying a potential downward trend in adolescent risk taking.
Advisor: Hayne, Harlene; Gross, Julien; Hunter, Jackie
Degree Name: Master of Science
Degree Discipline: Psychology
Publisher: University of Otago
Keywords: Adolescent; risk; risk-taking; New Zealand
Research Type: Thesis