Developmental Psychology – comparison of the risk perceptions between genders in late adolescence
Ellen Mulholland, Clinical Nurse Specialist/Health Adviser
Hartlepool General Hospital,
Tel: 01429 522577
If the research work is complete, when was it completed?
Summary of research topic
The transitional period of adolescence from childhood to adulthood has been characterised as a relatively high-risk stage of life which makes them vulnerable to the adverse biopsychosocial consequences of risk. However, adolescent experimentation has been viewed as psychologically adaptive, as experimentation facilitates social and psychological development, autonomy, self-regulation and independence.
As a result of these complex developmental processes, adolescent risk taking is multifactoral involving such factors as social conformity and peer influence, together with personality factors including extraversion/introversion and high sensation seeking traits. Furthermore, risk taking has also been linked with the concept of “optimistic bias” whereby individuals hold a sense of invulnerability as they unrealistically assess their own risks as less than the risks of others. Risk appraisals have also been found to be modified by prior experience.
Knowledge of these factors is of particular importance for practice for both clinic based one to one and broader community based behavioural interventions. A wide body of evidence exists that supports the theory that adolescent’s perception of risk predicts subsequent behaviour. More specifically, perceptions of the beneficial consequences of risky activities have been found to be a significant predictor of intentions to participate in them. Significant gender differences in risk perceptions have also been consistently found.
In order to build upon previous research and to gain further understanding into the risk perceptions of adolescents, the current study utilised an independent groups design to investigate the relationship between the perceived positive consequences (the benefits), perceived negative consequences (the costs), and intentions to participate in a variety of risky activities. This was combined with an investigation into the gender differences between risk perceptions.
Utilising a purposive quota sampling technique, 56 adolescents (25-male/31 female) with a mean age of 16.8 years (age range 16-18 years) were selected from a College of Further Education in the North East of England.
They were instructed to complete the three part Cognitive Appraisal of Risky Events Questionnaire which reflects six common risk factors; illicit drug use, aggressive and illegal behaviours, risky sexual activities, heavy drinking and academic behaviours. Independent samples t-tests revealed statistically significant gender differences between perceptions of negative consequences of the risky activities (t=2.938; df 54; p= .005; < 0.05) and between perceptions of positive consequences of risky activities (t= 2.056; df 54; p= .045; < 0.05) with females perceiving less negative consequences than males.
A Pearson’s correlation also revealed a strong positive relationship between perceived positive consequences and intentions to participate in the risky activities (r= 0.836; df 54; p= 0.01; < 0.05). The findings are discussed together with methodological limitations and implications for future research.