Risk-Taking Adolescents

Maura Bourne graduated in May 2019 with a BA in psychology and a minor in sociology. During her time as an undergraduate at UNCG, she conducted research under the guidance of Dr. Susan Keane, a professor in the Department of Psychology and the Director of Clinical Training. Her project was titled “The Effects of Sensation Seeking and Maternal Warmth on Adolescent Risky Behavior.”


HOW I GOT INVOLVED WITH RESEARCH

I signed up for “PSY 433 – Research Experience” for the Fall 2017 semester and began working with Dr. Keane as a research assistant in the RIGHT Track laboratory. This gave me the opportunity to dive headfirst into the world of psychological research. I’ve helped with data entry and checking (heart rate data, puberty data, etc.), updating and organizing copies of publications, and organization of and participation in the VHS to DVD project. Spending time on these tasks assisted in the development of my own research interests, such as adolescent behaviors and parenting strategies.

During my second semester with RIGHT Track, Dr. Keane and the project coordinator, Brittany Armstrong, encouraged me to apply for an Undergraduate Research and Creativity Award, so I could develop my own research questions and become more acquainted with research. I jumped at this opportunity immediately and was excited to become more involved with research.

MY PROJECT

My project examined the relationship between sensation seeking, risk-taking behavior, and mother-adolescent conflict.

Existing research has shown a link between sensation seeking – the tendency to seek out excitement – and engagement in risk-taking behaviors among adolescents. We also know parental factors (e.g., authoritative parenting, parental monitoring) can influence risk-taking in sensation-seeking adolescents.

For this project, I explored another parental factor which may be of influence: mother-adolescent conflict. To do so, I utilized data from the RIGHT Track Project, a longitudinal study of development. My advisor, Dr. Keane, is an investigator on the project.

WHAT I’VE LEARNED

Our regression analysis revealed a significant main effect and a significant interaction. Mother-adolescent conflict strengthened the association between sensation seeking and risk-taking.

These results suggest that, among adolescents with greater mother-adolescent conflict, higher sensation seeking is associated with greater engagement in risky behavior. We did not see this effect for adolescents with low levels of mother-adolescent conflict.

WHY DOES MY RESEARCH MATTER

In addition to learning more about the ins and outs of a research project and expanding my own understanding of the topics related to my project, my project can be used for real world situations. For example, my findings could inform interventions aiming to reduce mother-adolescent conflict, especially among sensation seeking youth.

I shared my findings through a poster presentation at the State of North Carolina Undergraduate Research and Creativity Symposium during the Fall 2018 semester. I also presented a poster at UNCG’s 13th annual Undergraduate Research and Creativity Expo in April.

THE VALUE OF UNDERGRADUATE RESEARCH

My participation in undergraduate research and receiving an Undergraduate Research and Creativity Award helped me stand out among other graduate school applicants. I had a unique experience not attained by many undergraduate students. Additionally, I feel more confident when speaking about myself and my own research. I think this opportunity demonstrates a high level of commitment and professionalism, which will give me an advantage in graduate school and when going into the work force.

RESEARCH REQUIRES RESILIENCE

Initially I wanted to explore maternal warmth as a protective factor that may influence sensation seeking, instead of mother-adolescent conflict.

To do this, we needed to observe approximately 300 eight-minute video clips of a mother-adolescent lab task and systematically code the interactions among participants according to a coding system. I worked on this with two graduate students and learned it is very time-consuming.

I really enjoyed the process, but due to necessary changes to the coding system, we learned this data was not going to be ready in time for my project. Luckily, working with a longitudinal project gave me the possibility of looking at other factors through questionnaire data, which tends to be quicker to prepare for data analysis than observational coding.

MY RESEARCH TOOLS

I used SPSS to analyze data for my project. Specifically, I learned to run correlations and linear regressions. Without this opportunity, I likely wouldn’t have had the chance to use this software. Additionally, I learned the process of behavioral observation, such as learning and understanding the coding system and the process of becoming a reliable coder, where a team of coders are trained until all coder responses are closely related according to the definitions formulated in the coding manual.

RESEARCH IS NOT JUST FOR EXPERTS

The most surprising thing about engaging in scholarly activity was been realizing how attainable and interesting it can be. Previously, I viewed scholarly activity and research as something way out of my wheelhouse; I thought it was for professors and scientists, which I am not. However, I learned that anyone with a passion to acquire knowledge can engage in scholarly activity and do research of their own. The first step to engaging in scholarly activity and research is finding resources, such as connecting with a professor or joining a research lab on campus.

MY ADVICE

It doesn’t matter what your major is. Get involved with research!

Research isn’t just for a stuffy scientist wearing a white lab coat (full disclosure, that’s what I used to think). Research allows you to become engaged in your field of study in a more immersive way and provides a chance to gather with like-minded individuals. I also recommend establishing professional relationships with faculty members.

If you’re passionate about your studies and would like to become involved in research, I feel confident you will find a faculty member who would love to help.

Interview by Hope Voorhees


The URSCO blog helps UNCG’s undergraduate scholars share their work and impact with the world. Interested in sharing your work? Contact URSCO Director Lee Phillips at plphilli@uncg.edu or Office of Research and Engagement Media and Communication Manager Sangeetha Shivaji at s.shivaji@uncg.edu.


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