UA Researchers Receive $2.5 Million to Study Risky Decision Making in Adolescents

<p>3 million new cases of (STDs) are identified in adolescents every year.</p>

UA Researchers Receive $2.5 Million to Study Risky Decision Making in Adolescents

Oct. 24, 2001
From: Jo Gellerman, (520) 626-7301
TUCSON, Ariz. -- Why are some teen-agers more likely to engage in risky sexual behaviors than others? Researchers at the University of Arizona College of Medicine Informatics and Decision Making Laboratory received a $2.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to find out.
Despite significant efforts by schools and community groups to discourage risky sexual behavior among adolescents, 3 million new cases of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are identified in adolescents every year, and AIDS has become the seventh-leading cause of death among youth between the ages of 15 and 24, says Valerie F. Reyna, PhD, professor, UA Department of Surgery, and director of the Informatics and Decision Making Laboratory.

Trying to convince adolescents to refrain from risky behavior is an enormous challenge, Dr. Reyna says. This challenge and the high health stakes involved are among the reasons researchers at the UA were awarded the NIH grant. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has listed reducing risky sexual behavior among young persons as a national health objective.

"The research will include using recent advances in cognitive-behavioral theory to look at the key factors that underlie adolescents' sexual decision making," says Dr. Reyna, a nationally known expert on decision making and the study's principal investigator.

One recent advance being applied to the study is "fuzzy-trace theory," developed by Dr. Reyna at the University of Arizona. Fuzzy-trace theory predicts values, preferences, and emotion-laden attitudes that determine judgment and decision-making processes, explains Dr. Reyna.

Slated to begin this fall, the study will examine about 1,000 adolescents to determine how decision processes differ across ethnic groups, how decision processes differ for abstinent-versus-sexually active adolescents, and how decision processes differ for those who do, and those who do not, engage in STD/HIV risk behaviors, such as unprotected intercourse and intercourse with multiple partners, Dr. Reyna says.

The five-year study also will evaluate the effectiveness of intervention programs designed to reduce risky sexual behavior.