Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Childhood Unpredictability, Schemas for Unpredictability, and Risk Taking

Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Childhood Unpredictability, Schemas for Unpredictability, and Risk Taking

Article excerpt

The present paper describes a conceptual model of possible antecedents, markers, and consequences of unpredictability schemas, and outlines empirical support for the model. Early experiences, especially those pertaining to one's family, are the basis for the development of an unpredictability schema. To date, an unpredictability schema has been measured indirectly with scales that tap a variety of interrelated beliefs. Measures of such beliefs show associations with risk taking. An unpredictability schema, thus, may be an overlooked factor in risk-taking behavior. The present model takes a multidisciplinary approach and makes two major contributions. First, it integrates psychological constructs that have not previously been linked. Second, it clarifies existing relationships among background characteristics and riskrelated outcomes. Implications for prevention and intervention programming are discussed.

Research suggests an association between several aspects of risk-taking and background characteristics such as socioeconomic status (SES). Little is known about the mechanisms that account for this association. Unpredictability is proposed to help explain the relationship between background characteristics and risk-taking. Specifically, this paper explores the importance of environmental unpredictability during childhood as a precursor to unpredictability schemas, or belief systems, that may influence risk-taking. We discuss how unstable resources, belief systems, and risk-taking relate to unpredictability. Then, empirical support is summarized for the relationships between childhood unpredictability and subsequent unpredictability schemas, and for relationships between unpredictability schemas and risk-taking. Our goal is to outline a broad model incorporating antecedents, correlates, and consequences of unpredictability schemas. The unpredictability schema is a heuristic that allows greater insight into underlying mechanisms, and generates new predictions regarding risk-taking. Research typically focuses on the amount of resources available during development, however our model considers the perceived predictability (i.e., stability) of these resources as more important (see also Hill, Ross, & Low, 1997). Although this model is based primarily on social and personality psychology constructs, it relates to developmental, health, and clinical psychology, as well as to other disciplines, including behavioral ecology, education, epidemiology, and criminal justice.

Predictability can be interpreted as a source of "mental control," in which people believe that specific outcomes are due to certain behaviors (Bandura, 1992). Having some control (even perceived control) over our environment has mental and physical advantages (Cohen, 1980; Fleming, Baum, & Weiss, 1987). Social psychologist David Myers writes (1990) "one of the most human of tendencies is our urge to explain behavior, to attribute it to some cause, and therefore make it seem orderly, predictable, and controllable" (p. 138d). Internally caused events are seen as predictable, yet externally caused events may be perceived as unpredictable (e.g., a tornado) or predictable (e.g., having a dependable ride to work each morning). Mineka and Henderson (1985) argued, "it is this added predictability inherent in control that produces all of the beneficial consequences of having control, and conversely that it is the unpredictability inherent in not having control that produces...negative consequences" (p. 509). Control and uncontrollability may be overshadowing the important topics of predictability and unpredictability.



The ability to perceive the world as predictable is rooted in experiences and perceptions during infancy and childhood. Attachment theory (Bowlby, 1969) suggests that consistency in the responses of caregiver to an infant is crucial "not only because it shapes the acquisition of certain behaviors, but because it enables the child to develop a motive which is the basis of all future learning. …

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