Article Summery Beyond Invulnerability: The Importance of Benefits in Adolescents’ Decision to Drink Alcohol Introduction: Many things affect the choice of an adolescent to drink alcohol. It is thought that this particular age group thinks that they are not vulnerable to the risks involved with drinking alcohol. Studies in this area have resulted in mixed conclusions; some support the idea of adolescent invulnerability others do not. Intervention programs seem to work better if they are aimed at reducing risk taking behaviors than helping an adolescent realize their true invulnerability (in fact vulnerability). Older adolescents seem to be more likely to participate in risky behavior because of positive outcomes of previous risky behavior.
This experiment is to find out how adolescents perceive the benefits of risky behavior and how the perceived benefits motivate risky behavior. Five main questions will be discussed: 1. How do individuals perceive both the benefits and risks of drinking alcohol? 2. How do risk and benefit perceptions differ across age group? 3.
Experience differs with age, so how do risk and benefit perceptions differ by experience? 4. Do risk and benefit perceptions predict drinking and smoking 6 months later? 5. What is the relative contribution of perceived benefits (or perceived risks) in predicting risk taking behavior? This article is about a longitudinal study, but only focuses on the last two (of three) experiments which were spaced 6 months apart. Methods: The sample for this experiment is taken from fifth, seventh and ninth graders in Northern California. The participants were chosen by one of two methods mail based or classroom based.
The mail method (letters were sent to the home) recruited 89 fifth graders, 130 seventh graders and 58 ninth graders. The classroom method (information was given to students at school) resulted in 36 fifth graders, 18 seventh graders and 102 ninth graders. Participants were given surveys to complete (and later compensated with $$). The answers on the surveys were measured in a few different ways. An individual’s benefit versus risk perception was measured by having the participants fill in a certain probability (percent) that a benefit or risk will happen as a result of a risky behavior.
To measure a participants’ previous experience with benefits or risk they were asked yes or no questions, for example, have you ever liked the buzz you got from drinking alcohol? Or have you ever gotten sick from drinking alcohol? An individual’s experience with drinking was also measured by a 5 point Likert scale, participants could chose any point on a range from none to more than 10 times to answer the questions how many times have they drunk alcohol and how many times have they have had six or more drinks. Regarding cigarettes the participants were asked if they had ever smoked a cigarette in their entire life (yes or no) and on the second experiment they were asked if they had smoked more than one in the last six months (yes or no). Results & Discussion: Many different factors were being measured. The experimenters checked for correlations between experience and age, individual’s perception and their behavior, alcohol use and cigarette use. It is concluded that adolescents with more experience drinking alcohol perceive benefits to be more likely and the risks less likely.
The perceived benefits definitely resulted in the teen’s actual alcohol drinking behavior. Perceived benefits are seen (by the adolescents) as more important than the risks of drinking. Out of the participates who had drunk alcohol before most of them reported having positive outcomes, according to positive reinforcement, this would make it more likely for them to drink again and possibly more. This study did not support the idea of adolescent invulnerability; it found that the participants did know the risks, but that perceived benefits also play a big part. Critique & Comments: I think that this study is very interesting. The study itself is not about bio psychology, but there are a lot of things that I can relate to it.
The whole idea of perceived benefits relates directly to positive reinforcement. Adolescents who have experimented with drinking before have had positive consequences for their actions, thus reinforcing their behavior. Someone who has had a family member or friend killed by a drunk driver would have a different view. Participants who were inexperienced reported risks being more likely (than participants with experience) probably because of what they have heard from the media or parents. Adolescents are also going through a lot of physical changes in their brains. The brain area that is important in decision making, the prefrontal cortex, is still developing in teens and that is why it is different to study this age group versus an older age group.
Alcohol drinking and cigarette smoking is not pertinent in children younger than adolescents. Drinking habits in young adolescents (5 th graders are only 10 years old) may be a sign for alcoholism or possibly an alcoholic parent. Children who are drinking heavily (more than 6 drinks every time they drink) at such a young age will cause slower development and damage in the brain. One problem with this experiment (that is mentioned in the article) is that this study is a self reporting study.
The experimenters are hoping that everyone is correctly reporting the data. I would have liked to have seen results from a similar experiment including data from people ages 10 to 20. I think that experience would increase, but there would also be more chance for negative consequences. The oldest subjects in the study were only 14, I would have like to see some information on subjects through their teens.
This study was a longitudinal study done over a period of time. I think the next experiment would be even more follow-up on the subjects. Maybe experimenters could survey them again in 5 years and then again when they are in their upper 20’s. I think that these experiments would also show that at a certain point more experience would lead to better decision making. Another interesting thing that could come out of continuing this experiment would be to see if their drinking or smoking habits turn into addiction. Then a correlation could possibly be made between risky behavior / decision making in adolescence and addiction (to cigarettes or alcohol)..