It is hard to be in your 20s and not think about the people you meet on an everyday basis and the choices they make in their lives. Not for the purpose of judgement, but merely to try and understand what thought processes they employ.
I would like to believe it is pari materia to wondering about the lives of people driving past you as you wait at a traffic light or having this absurd desire to know who must be waiting for them when they go back home. Often, this will be interrupted by someone speeding past quite noisily, bringing an unpleasant stop to such trains of thought. This brings us to the focal point of this whole article- people who indulge in risky behaviour- over speeding, wandering to war-ravaged places, going on solo treks, skydiving, gambling with large amounts of money, engaging in unsafe sexual activities, substance abuse or simply visiting shady places for the sheer thrill of it.
I wondered what drives some people to take a proportionately exponential amount of risk while others take calculated steps and decided to look up on this. Does upbringing define how a person performs in this area, or is it events that happen later which make even twins behave like night and day?
According to research, there are multiple factors why people behave as they do. These range from personality types, emotional intelligence quotients, past experiences, peers, culture and regional characteristics. Certain biological predispositions also have a significant influence. Overall, differences exist between individuals and people of varied social groups. However, it is with conclusive proof that psychologists suggest that young adults and adolescents are more likely to indulge in risky behaviour and it isn’t due to their tendency to succumb to dicey temptations but more because of their inclination to tolerate ambiguity. Older adults and younger children are more likely to choose definite results when compared to the former age brackets which would engage in activities where the likelihood of outcomes was uncertain. It is not that adolescents actually choose to engage in risks, but rather they are willing to gamble when they lack complete knowledge.
Risk-taking itself is a complex construct with sensation-seeking taking the wheel, coupled with inadequate impulse control. It is any consciously or non-consciously controlled behaviour with a perceived uncertainty about its outcome, and/or its possible benefits or costs for the physical, economic or psycho-social well-being of oneself or others. According to studies, people’s sensitivity to rewards such as money, food, or peer praise or approval can impact their behaviour even when they aren’t conscious of it. Persons are prone to partake in such activities because, in the second decade of life, people feel invulnerable to the consequences of their actions.
It is also a well-known aspect of such behaviours that people who have had unpleasant experiences in the past, or who have had some types of Post Traumatic Stress Disorders are more prone to engaging in such behaviours because they believe that they escaped an unfavourable situation once and they can successfully do it again. War veterans with PSTD are more prone to over-speeding, binge drinking and alcohol abuse. It becomes all the more important for such persons to seek out the help that they need to save them from their own selves.
Behaviours such as alcohol abuse, drug abuse, smoking, pulling “all-nighters” and unsafe sexual activities are prevalent amongst college students, since they are generally free from parental supervision, have increased independence and believe that teachers and parents are fallible. Behavioural excesses such as the abovementioned and behavioural deficits such as avoiding the use of seatbelts and helmets, physical inactivity, and failure to sympathise and lend a listening ear, all form part of risky behaviours. According to Trimpop (1994), the seven characteristic features of risk-taking individuals are:
- They genetically have a lower level of fear than most people (or even an absence of fear).
- They are creators, not observers.
- Risk-takers are incredibly curious about why things are the way they are.
- They are promotion-focused; they hate losing more than they love winning.
- Risk-takers surround themselves with like-minded risk-takers.
- They believe that anything is possible.
- They can shake off and even embrace failure.
Risk takers can be of many types, ranging from pro-social risk takers such as soldiers, police personnel and entrepreneurs to anti-social risk takers such as terrorists and violent criminals, and others like extreme sportspersons such as those pursuing mixed martial arts, etcetera. Yet, risk-taking has been presented as a precursor of problematic behaviour, leading to self-destructive, psychological, social and health-compromising situations. However, it has also been shown to be an important part of development into adulthood, particularly if it is goal-directed; risk-taking is not merely for sensation seeking, but it sometimes has aims on a personal level or relational level. A modest degree of risk-taking in adolescence seems to be normative and associated with some positive psychological characteristics.
Motives of risk-taking behaviour can be classified into six broad categories: the first factor contains reasons of irresponsibility (without thinking about the repercussions and recklessness); the second factor includes novelty and sensation-seeking motives; and the third factor includes hedonistic motives (living in the moment). The fourth factor consists of social desirability reasons (receiving others’ attention and care, impressing others, etc. ), the fifth factor consists of accomplishing future objectives and success, and the sixth factor consists of gaining popularity and social acceptance.
Understanding these motives and demographics behind such behaviour can help identify means to curb them. Anger, resentment and negative feelings towards past experiences which act as a driver for risky behaviour can be addressed with appropriate counselling and guidance. Stress and other derivatives can also be addressed by employing an on-campus psychologist or modifying of curriculum and incorporating stress-relieving activities and provisions on college premises. Campaigns to increase health awareness must also be undertaken while suggesting other means to bond with peers, in case the driving factor behind such behaviour has been identified as social desirability.
To conclude, I believe it is important to remove the tinted glass through which we view risky behaviour, to blissfully ignore demeaning things society has to say about such individuals and try and understand what exactly is going on. For the most part, this is an example of how and why mental health needs to be focused on more and why schools should emphasize on self-introspection to help people gauge their own self-esteem, which has a great role to play in the social drivers of risky behaviour. Incorporating the basics of psychology into the academic curriculum may also be of use. Some people need help but won’t ask for it, people who would paint their issues as self-depreciative humour and others who do not want to be helped. Some others may just need to lead their tendencies into more productive activities, such as cool sports, maybe? I think fencing or deep sea diving would be enough of a risk for me.
To put things into perspective, a person leaving a well-established, secure career to launch a startup or an entrepreneurial endeavour is also taking a risk. But that’s a good risk; a profitable risk and often yields success. It all comes down to recognizing and subsequently directing one’s risk-taking tendencies and doing a cost-benefit analysis while making decisions, especially now that we are officially ‘adulting’.
This article is written by Sakshi Narwal (III Year)