Simple Questionnaire Could Predict Risky Behavior Like Taking Drugs And Sex Without A Condom

Anticipating which young people will have sex without a condom or try recreational drugs could be helpful in preventing risky behavior, but it could be hard to correctly guess who is likely to behave impulsively.

Researchers from Cornell University and Vassar College have devised a questionnaire to predict whether someone will engage in risky or impulsive behavior “that significantly outperforms 14 other gold-standard measures frequently used in economics and psychology,” according to Cornell. The 12 questions they designed all focused on the principle of “sacrifice now, enjoy later.”

“People who get drunk frequently, party with drugs, borrow money needlessly or have unprotected sex disagreed more with the concept ‘sacrifice now, enjoy later’ than people who didn’t do these things,” Cornell’s Valerie Reyna said in a statement from the university. “Instead, they leaned more toward ‘have fun today and don’t worry about tomorrow.’ … But not being able to delay gratification can interfere with education, health and financial well-being, and the impact is greater for young people.”

pen-1743189_1920 Researchers who have created a simple questionnaire hope to predict which people will act impulsively. Image courtesy of Pixabay, public domain

Other questionnaires ask people to choose between specific scenarios, such as whether they would take a sum of money today or a larger sum later on. But impulsive behavior, Reyna says, is linked to a life principle as opposed to a specific reward — when faced with a decision, the person applies the principle to the situation.

The new model, called the Gist Scale, includes conceptual statements like, “I wait to buy what I want until I have enough money;” “I think it is better to save money for the future;” and “I am worried about the amount of money I owe,” the university said. A study comparing its effectiveness to other questionnaires found it to be more effective, shorter and simpler. “It is also gender and age neutral, meaning it can be taken by anyone.”

Impulse control has been attributed to a number of different brain processes. One recent study pinpointed the lack of self-control displayed with impulsive behavior as being related to selfishness. The part of the brain where the parietal and temporal lobes meet is important for social decision-making — which includes acts of community and selflessness — because it helps a person overcome their own desire to satisfy a current personal need. In the case of a community act, it allows them to behave in favor of someone else. In the case of resisting impulsive behavior, the person exercises self-control by framing the decision in terms of how their future self will feel.

Studying impulse control is important for various medical reasons, including understanding and combating addiction. Another recent study found that methamphetamine users who displayed impulsive behavior generally started taking the drug at an earlier age than others. It suggested that being impulsive contributes to using meth and meth contributes to being impulsive.

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