Many face(t)s of young people’s risk-taking: Individual and situational determinants
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Submission date: 2017-05-01
Final revision date: 2017-08-08
Acceptance date: 2017-08-21
Online publication date: 2017-12-29
Publication date: 2018-04-18
Current Issues in Personality Psychology 2018;6(2):112-121
Adolescence and young adulthood are frequently characterised by a strong propensity to take risks. Yet, empirical data shows that personality traits, type and features of risk measures, or presence of additional incentives can significantly influence one’s risk-taking tendency. Our aim was to investigate young people’s risk-taking and point out when and how individual and situational factors may increase or decrease their risk-taking propensity.

Participants and procedure:
Participants were adolescents and emerging adults (N = 173, age range: 13-30). Each completed two behavioural risk measures (“hot” and “cold” decision tasks) in two conditions, with or without financial incentives. Questionnaires assessing self-declared risk-taking, sensation seeking, and impulsivity were also used. Statistical analyses were conducted with gender and age as additional factors.

In “hot” risk tasks all participants risked the same, while the tendency to take risks in “cold” tasks was higher for older participants, especially in the presence of incentives. Males risked more than females, apart from “hot” incentivised tasks where no gender differences were found. Sensation seeking and impulsivity were significant predictors of risk-taking in “hot” incentivised tasks, while performance in “cold” non-incentivised tasks depended on sensation seeking only.

Our results show that risk-taking is not a unitary phenomenon, and young people are not universal risk-takers. Certain personality traits seem to predispose this group to taking risks, but only in some circumstances (e.g. “hot” decisions). Factors such as task context or additional incentives can not only increase but also decrease risk-taking in young people, resulting in more caution on their behalf.

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