Academic journal article Human Ecology

Extension Project Guides Teens to Make Wiser Decisions about Sex, Diet, and Exercise

Academic journal article Human Ecology

Extension Project Guides Teens to Make Wiser Decisions about Sex, Diet, and Exercise

Article excerpt

The common stereotype of teens is that they speed through red lights, binge drink, or have unprotected sex because they are thrill seekers blind to risk.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Not true, finds Valerie Reyna, professor of human development, whose research shows that adolescents are aware of the potential dangers of their actions, but make calculated choices to "play the odds" because they believe "it's worth the risk" for the perceived rewards.

Reyna's studies have revealed that adolescents tend to reason and assess risk via "verbatim-based analysis"--where the mind focuses on precise details and facts and runs a complex comparison of the costs and benefits of a decision. Adults, on the other hand, more often use "gist-based intuition" to immediately understand the bottom-line dangers inherent in an action. Teen drivers may be inclined to race to beat a train, knowing there's a high probability they'll make it; adults would automatically sense that's a bad idea, realizing the small chance it could be deadly.

To help vulnerable teens make smarter choices about sexual activity, nutrition, and fitness, Reyna and Cornell Cooperative Extension partners are applying her research in a new extension-funded risk reduction project. …

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