There is a wide range of research devoted to studying risky behavior during adolescence. Much of it is focused on risky behaviors as coping methods and some of it looks at risk taking with relation to peer influence, normal developmental stages, and other influences. However, until now, few studies have looked at how risk taking declines over time. Specifically, few studies have examined when young adults’ risk-taking behavior levels off or declines. Additionally, no attention has been given to understanding the effect of gender on risk taking as adolescents enter adulthood. To this end, Jeannette Brodbeck of the Department of Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy at the University of Berne in Switzerland recently led a study examining the risk taking trajectories of participants beginning at age 16 and ending at age 29. Brodbeck looked at alcohol and cannabis use, smoking, drinking to drunkenness, HIV risk through unprotected sex, and general deviance in a sample of 2,843 participants.
Brodbeck found that overall, drinking to drunkenness and smoking both decreased as the participants matured. Consumption of alcohol increased in the teen years and then remained stable through the rest of the study period. Cannabis use decreased for all the participants, but sexual risk taking increased through age 22. Brodbeck said, “While drinking up to the point of drunkenness, smoking, cannabis use, and deviance decline during young adulthood, HIV-related sexual risk behavior still increases.” This was not surprising, but raises significant concerns. Since people engage in more sexual relationships and become more sexually active as they enter adulthood, it is expected that they would be at increased risk for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. This finding suggests that efforts raising awareness about safe sex and the risks of unprotected sexual activity be increased and targeted specifically to this age group.
Another interesting finding was the trajectory of deviance. Even though the males and females all followed similar patterns of risk taking increases and decreases, the females had slower declines in deviance than the males. The reasons for this are unclear and should be explored further in future research. Until then, this study sheds light on the risk taking behaviors of adolescents as they progress from childhood to adulthood.
Brodbeck, J., Bachmann, M. S., Croudace, T. J., and Brown, A. (2012). Comparing growth trajectories of risk behaviors from late adolescence through young adulthood: An accelerated design. Developmental Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0030873
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