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The Personal Fable and Risk-Taking in Early Adolescence

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Abstract

Elkind’s (1967) theory of adolescent egocentrism proposes two distinct, but related, constructs – the imaginary audience and the personal fable. A corollary to the imaginary audience, the personal fable (PF) yields a sense of invulnerability and speciality commonly associated with behavioral risk-taking. When regarded as a developmental phenomenon, risk-taking is thought to be the result of cognitive immaturity. However, few adolescent health programs address the egocentric dimension of decision making. We believe that a valid and reliable measure of PF would aid assessment of risk-taking potential and inform preventive interventions. The present paper reports the results of a newly constructed measure of PF and its relation to risk-taking behavior. The following three hypotheses were tested using data from an availability sample of 119 middle school students: 1. PF scores will increase with age; 2. males will score higher than females on the invulnerability dimension of PF; and 3. PF and risk-taking will be positively correlated. As predicted, PF scores increased significantly across the age range studied. Of the two PF dimensions, only invulnerability significantly varied across grades. Males reported significantly higher invulnerability scores than females, and PF and risk-taking were positively correlated. Suggestions for the implementation of this new and, arguably, reliable and valid scale are presented.

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Correspondence to Amy Alberts.

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Amy Alberts, M. A., is currently pursuing a doctoral degree in Applied Child Development at the Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Development, Tufts University. Ms. Alberts’ research interests include psychosocial adjustment during the pubertal transition and adolescent-parent relationships.

David Elkind, Ph.D. is Professor of Child Development at Tufts University. His research has been in the areas of social and cognitive development, building upon the research and theory of Jean Piaget. His latest book, The Power of Play will be Published by DaCapo Press in 2007. I have served on the Editorial Board of the Journal of Youth and Adolescence for almost two decades. Although Dan and I have not always agreed on adolescent issues it has always been a responsible, mutually respecting disagreement. As an editor, Dan has always been sensitive, thoughtful and supportive, a pleasure to work with and for.

Stephen Ginsberg is a senior at Tufts University and is currently applying to graduate programs in clinical psychology.

Appendix

Appendix

Table 3 Personal fable scale items

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Alberts, A., Elkind, D. & Ginsberg, S. The Personal Fable and Risk-Taking in Early Adolescence. J Youth Adolescence 36, 71–76 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10964-006-9144-4

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