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Sensation seeking and impulsivity in relation to youth decision making about risk behavior: mindfulness training to improve self-regulatory skills




Johansen, Samantha van Limbeek, author
Youngblade, Lise M., advisor
Rambo-Hernandez, Karen, committee member
MacPhee, David, committee member
Haddock, Shelley, committee member
Aloise-Young, Patricia, committee member

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The goal of this study is to examine the effects of a mindfulness intervention on at-risk adolescents' decision-making about risk behavior. Significant research shows that during adolescence individuals are at higher risk for morbidities and co-morbidities resulting from risk-taking behavior than at other points in the lifespan. Further, research shows that although adolescents are cognitively similar to adults in appraising risk in hypothetical situations, they are still over-represented in health-compromising risk-taking behavior, suggesting that there are other factors contributing to their decision-making about risk. Sensation seeking and impulsivity have been shown to lead to a proclivity for risk behavior and decisions that involve reward-seeking, susceptibility to peer pressure and increased risk-taking. Furthermore, developmental research demonstrates that youth are still developing self-regulatory skills that can down regulate impulsive or sensation-seeking behavior. Interestingly, there is also beginning evidence that self-regulation can be practiced and fostered during adolescence, suggesting that self-regulation is an important intervention target. Thus, this study tests the hypothesis that a mindfulness intervention will improve self-regulation as a way reducing the link between impulsivity, sensation-seeking and decision-making that leads to risk-taking behavior. The sample for this study includes 178 diverse (63% Male; 50% White, 33% Hispanic, 6% Native American, 4% Black), at-risk, youth between the ages of 10-18 (mean age = 13.6) who are participating in a university-based therapeutic mentorship program, Campus Corps. Youth were referred to the mentoring program by the juvenile court magistrate, the district attorney's office, probation officers, and school counselors. Campus Corps pairs at-risk youth with university students and takes place once per week for four hours over a 12-week period. Youth engage in tutoring and prosocial activities with their mentors. This program is led by marriage and family therapy graduate students. Youth were randomly assigned to a control (Campus Corps as usual) or an intervention (Campus Corps with mindfulness) condition. The mindfulness intervention (Learning to Breathe; Broderick, 2009) is implemented for one hour during the Campus Corps evening over a six week period. The intervention includes specific lessons in mindfulness surrounding decision making, self-awareness, and regulation. Results indicate that mindfulness does not significantly moderate the process of self-regulation as a moderating factor with respect to impulsivity and various decision making bases, as well as with respect to sensation seeking and various decision making bases. However, secondary data analyses reveal that the mindfulness intervention did have a significant moderating effect on self-regulation as a moderating variable between impulsivity and risk behavior count (number of risks taken during the past three weeks) over time, as well as between sensation seeking and risk behavior count over time. Speculations regarding the results of this study include the notion that the interaction between self-regulation and mindfulness more strongly affects the "in the moment," gratification-seeking, and/or emotional drive to engage in a particular behavior than the reflective cognitive process measured by decision making bases.


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risk behavior
decision making


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