Sensation Seeking and Impulsivity Can Increase Exposure to Risky Media and Moderate Its Effects on Adolescent Risk Behaviors

  • Atika KhuranaEmail author
  • Amy Bleakley
  • Morgan E. Ellithorpe
  • Michael Hennessy
  • Patrick E. Jamieson
  • Ilana Weitz


Media exposure to risky behaviors (e.g., alcohol use, violence) has been associated with adolescent engagement in risk-taking behaviors, but not all adolescents are equally at risk. Here we focus on individual differences in impulsivity and sensation seeking and assess their effects on the relation between media risk exposure and adolescent risk behavior. Survey data from 1990 Black and White US adolescents (mean age = 15.6 ± 1.10 years; 48% female) and content analysis of top-grossing films and popular TV shows were analyzed using linear regression models. High levels of impulsivity and sensation seeking were associated with greater exposure to risky media content, and also operated as moderators, exacerbating the impact of media risk exposure on adolescent risk behaviors. Prevention efforts targeting negative effects of media on adolescent health should prioritize youth with high levels of impulsivity and sensation seeking.


Media effects Adolescent risk behaviors Impulsivity Sensation seeking 



This study was funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) (Grant Number 1R21HD079615). Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the NICHD.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. All procedures were approved by the University of Pennsylvania Institutional Review Board. This article does not contain any studies with animals performed by any of the authors.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all participants included in the study.


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Copyright information

© Society for Prevention Research 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Atika Khurana
    • 1
    Email author
  • Amy Bleakley
    • 2
  • Morgan E. Ellithorpe
    • 3
  • Michael Hennessy
    • 2
  • Patrick E. Jamieson
    • 4
  • Ilana Weitz
    • 4
  1. 1.College of EducationUniversity of OregonEugeneUSA
  2. 2.Annenberg School for CommunicationUniversity of PennsylvaniaPhiladelphiaUSA
  3. 3.Department of Advertising & Public Relations, College of Communication Arts & SciencesMichigan State UniversityEast LansingUSA
  4. 4.Annenberg Public Policy CenterUniversity of PennsylvaniaPhiladelphiaUSA

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