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J Pers Soc Psychol. 2003 Feb;84(2):390-410.

Personality and the predisposition to engage in risky or problem behaviors during adolescence.

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  • 1Department of Psychological Sciences, University of Missouri-Columbia, 65211, USA.


Longitudinal data from a representative sample of 1,978 Black and White adolescents were used to examine the role of personality in multiple risk or problem behaviors. Results indicate that covariation among diverse behaviors (educational underachievement, delinquent behavior, substance use, sexual behavior) can be adequately modeled by a single higher order factor, and that impulsivity and avoidance coping serve as generalized risk factors for involvement in these behaviors. Whereas none of the personality variables examined explained change in problem behaviors once established, avoidance coping prospectively predicted involvement among a subgroup of adolescents with little or no prior involvement. Results suggest that dysfunctional styles of regulating emotions and emotionally driven behaviors are core features of risky or problem behaviors during adolescence.

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