Risky business and rebellion discussed on Research Matters

A little bit of rebelliousness can create positive change in the world, but misdirected, can lead to all kinds of negative consequences. Being a rebel with a cause is key, according to psychology professor Kathryn Lafreniere.

“If it weren’t for rebellion you wouldn’t have all kinds of social movements, the civil rights movement,” said Dr. Lafreniere, who along with colleagues Roseanne Menna and Kenneth Cramer, recently published a paper in the Journal of Motivation, Emotion and Personality about rebelliousness, risky behaviour and the predictors of risk taking in older adolescents.

“Rebelliousness under appropriate conditions can be a really important thing,” said Lafreniere, who will appear on CJAM 99.1 FM this afternoon to discuss her findings. “Kids who are randomly vandalizing things, that’s an unproductive use of rebelliousness. But people who are rebelling against unfair restrictions and laws in society, that’s a pro-social use of rebelliousness. But rebelliousness, especially in terms of excitement seeking, can lead to risk-taking behaviour.”

Lafreniere and her colleagues used four diagnostic questionnaires to study 76 students between the ages of 17 and 19 and found those who scored highest on surveys that measured for pro-active, or excitement-seeking rebelliousness, and lowest on effortful control, or the inability to suppress inappropriate impulses, were the most likely to engage in such risky behaviours as illicit drug use, unprotected sex, and questionable academic or work behaviours.

They’ve also applied the research methods in an academic setting, conducting an on-line survey of 242 students to compare those who have a pure love of learning with those who simply motivated by finding short cuts to getting good grades to determine which ones might be more inclined to engage in risky academic behaviour.

Lafreniere said the studies provide useful information for both parents and teachers trying to detect early indications that their children and students may be inclined to engage in risky behaviour at school or elsewhere.

“Are they unfocused? Are they too distractible? Are they having trouble focusing their attention? Are they easily led into situations where they should be able to resist the temptation?” she said. “Those are early signs that kids might have academic problems or other behavioural problems down the line.”

Lafreniere will appear today on Research Matters, a weekly talk show that focuses on the work of University of Windsor researchers and airs every Thursday at 4:30 p.m. on CJAM 99.1 FM.