Teenagers Are Bad At Predicting Their Risk Of Getting Into Trouble

Recent investigations of adolescents’ beliefs about risk have led to surprisingly optimistic conclusions: Teens’ self estimates of their likelihood of experiencing various life events not only correlate sensibly with relevant risk factors (Fischhoff et al., 2000), but they also significantly predict later experiencing the events (Bruine de Bruin et al., 2007). Using the same dataset examined in previous investigations, the present study extended these analyses by comparing the predictive value of self estimates of risk to that of traditional risk factors for each outcome. The analyses focused on the prediction of pregnancy, criminal arrest, and school enrollment. Three findings emerged. First, traditional risk factor information tended to out-predict self assessments of risk, even when the risk factors included crude, potentially unreliable measures (e.g., a simple tally of self-reported criminal history) and when the risk factors were aggregated in a nonoptimal way (i.e., unit weighting). Second, despite the previously reported correlations between self estimates and outcomes, perceived invulnerability was a problem among the youth: Over half of the teens who became pregnant, half of those who were not enrolled in school, and nearly a third of those who were arrested had, one year earlier, indicated a 0% chance of experiencing these outcomes. Finally, adding self estimates of risk to the other risk factor information produced only small gains in predictive accuracy. These analyses point to the need for greater education about the situations and behaviors that lead to negative outcomes.

The paper (pdf) is from Judgment and Decision Making and the author is Alexander Persoskie.

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