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Access Type

WSU Access

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name



Educational Psychology

First Advisor

Stephen B. Hillman






December 2010

Advisor: Dr. Stephen B. Hillman

Major: Educational Psychology

Degree: Doctor of Philosophy

Much theory and research has focused on adolescent risk-taking behavior. Common theories include Zuckerman's (1971) perspective on sensation seeking, the problem behavior perspective identified by Jessor and Jessor (1977), and the causal model of risk-taking behavior by Irwin and Millstein (1986). While beneficial to understanding risky behaviors, these perspectives do not take into account specific personality traits that contribute to risk-taking or cognitive appraisals of risky behaviors. Further, most research has focused on the adolescent population with regard to risk. Studies on emerging adulthood are less abundant. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to examine the role of personality as a contributor to risk-taking behaviors in emerging adulthood. Emerging adults' cognitive appraisals about risky behaviors were also explored. Religiosity and locus of control were considered variables contributing to the relationship between personality and risky behaviors.

Data were collected from a sample of 255 participants, ages 18 to 25, from a large university in Southeast Michigan. The participants completed self-report

questionnaires which were distributed toward the beginning or end of their class period. Participants could take the questionnaires home to complete and return the following week in class.

Findings showed that cognitive appraisals of risk-taking behaviors were related

to the degree of involvement in those behaviors. No significant age or gender differences were found. Personality factors were found to play a small role in risk-taking behaviors. Factors such as religion and internal locus of control appear to be minimal in decreasing certain risky behaviors. Despite studies presented supporting the hypotheses in this research, the variance accounted for in the regression analyses was small and of little practical significance. Replication of the current study is needed with consideration to the limitations presented in examining the role of personality to the contribution of risky behaviors, along with a study of variables that may serve as protective factors.

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