Author: Wayne Fraser
It is important to understand the way that people evaluate risk at different ages. Adults are generally perceived as having better risk assessment than adolescents. Research implications have continuously dismissed this belief. Adolescent risk behavior is usually attributed to unrealistic feelings of invulnerability. Researchers have stated that this invulnerability idea is due to adolescent egocentrism (Cohn et al, 1995). A study was done by Cohn et al, (1995) which bred results showing that adolescents and adults both saw themselves as less vulnerable in risky situations; however, the bias was in fact more present in adults than in adolescents. It can be assumed that adults see situations as less risky for themselves because they have more life experience than adolescents, and because they are more cautious. Shulman and Cauffman (2014) state that there are two systems for decision making: deliberative and intuitive. Deliberative decision-making weighs the options, considers the possibilities, and resolves dilemmas; this system operates within conscious awareness. Intuitive decision-making gathers information from observation or association, encodes contextual information in a holistic way, and integrates large amounts of data quickly and effortlessly; it operates out of conscious awareness.
According to Shulman and Cauffman (2014) the adolescent brain develops via the dual systems theory. The dual systems theory states that the adolescent brain develops in two systems within the brain: the socioemotional system and the cognitive control system. The socioemotional system is triggered by puberty and includes changes in neurochemistry dealing especially with dopamine and oxytocin, it also deals with strengthening connections within the brain that respond to social and emotional stimuli. The cognitive control system serves as a top-down regulatory function that modulates emotion, restrains impulses, and detects potential harm. Due to the development being triggered by the onset of adolescence, risk assessment skills in adolescence are developing and changing so they are not as sturdy as skills in adulthood.
Gender differences are also a topic of interest when studying risk assessment. Risk assessment on a gender specific scale can stem from implicit gender beliefs. Implicit gender beliefs are also known as gender specific stereotypes. Not unlike any other form of knowledge come from an individual’s cultural heritage, they are learned early in life before the ability to dismiss them has been obtained (Phelan & Rudman, 2010). These stereotypes cause people to automatically associate males and females with certain abilities, traits, and roles. Gender differences in risk assessment seem to be common knowledge, however, the origin of these ideas is stereotypical. For instance, a study was done by Henwood, Parkhill & Pidgeon (2008) and the results showed that males expressed lower levels of concerns about environmental and technological hazards when compared to females. Males and females both even fall under the influence of their own stereotypes. Males are more likely to take on a risky task, and females are more likely to shy away from a risky task.