Risky Business: Executive Function, Personality

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Risky Business: Executive Function, Personality, and Reckless Behavior
During Adolescence and Emerging Adulthood
Henry Pharo, Clark Sim, Mikala Graham, Julien Gross, and Harlene Hayne
University of Otago
Adolescence is a risky business. Despite outstanding physical health, the risk of injury or death during adolescence is 2–3 times that of childhood. The primary cause of this increase in morbidity and mortality is heightened risky behavior including drinking, driving, drug-taking, smoking, and unprotected sex.
Why is it that some adolescents take big risks, while others do not? One potential source of individual differences in risk-taking behavior may lie in individual differences in executive function including judgment, impulse control, self-monitoring, and planning. Researchers have hypothesized that limited brain system integration and efficiency, particularly in the prefrontal cortex and related structures, may be involved in the range and degree of risky behavior commonly exhibited by teens. In the present study, we examined the relation between risky behavior, personality factors, and performance on neuropsychological tests of executive function. The community sample of 136 adolescents aged 13- to 17-yearsold and 57 emerging adults aged 18- to 22-years-old exhibited marked individual differences in risk-taking behavior; participants’ scores on a alcohol, smoking, drugs, sex, driving, and antisocial behavior questionnaire ranged from 0 to near the maximum value possible. We found that risky personality and performance on the neuropsychological tests were both significant predictors of realworld risk-taking. These data have important implications for current public policies involving adolescents and emerging adults.
Keywords: adolescence, risky behavior, executive function, personality
The transition between childhood and adulthood is…...

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