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Adolescent Health Risk Behaviors: Convergent, Discriminant and Predictive Validity of Self-Report and Cognitive Measures

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Self-report and cognitive tasks of reward sensitivity and self-regulation have influenced several developmental models that may explain the heightened engagement in risk behaviors during adolescence. Despite some inconsistencies across studies, few studies have explored the convergent, discriminant, and predictive validity of self-report and cognitive measures of these psychological characteristics in adolescence. The present study evaluated the convergent and discriminant validity of self-report and cognitive measures of reward sensitivity and self-regulation among 2017 adolescents (age M = 16.8, SD = 1.1; 56% female; 55% White, 22% Black, 8% Hispanic, 15% other race/ethnic; 49% 10th grade and 51% 12th grade). This study compared the predictive validity of an omnibus measure and specific measures of risk engagement. Convergent and discriminant validity from self-report to cognitive tasks were as predicted, although with weak convergent relationships. As hypothesized, compared to cognitive tasks, self-report measures consistently predicted risky behaviors and explained more variance in the models. These results demonstrate that while cognitive tasks can significantly predict certain risk behaviors, they require increased power to find the very small effects, raising questions about their use as implicit proxies for real world risk behavior.

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This research was supported, in part, by a grant from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD; R01HD075806, D.P. Keating, Principal Investigator). The authors thank Peter Batra, Joshua Hatfield, Meredith House, Kyle Kwaiser, Kathleen LaDronka and the U-M Survey Research Operations staff for their support. Portions of these data were presented at the 2017 biennial meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development.

Authors’ Contributions

MD conceived of the study, conducted the statistical analysis, and wrote the initial draft of the manuscript with the support of DK and EH. DK and EH designed and executed the survey. EH organized data preparation. DK, EH and MM assisted with study conception and writing. All authors read and approved the manuscript.


This work was supported by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, Grants R01HD075806 (PI: Keating), K01HD091416 (PI: Maslowsky), and R24HD042849 (to the Population Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin, of which Maslowsky is a faculty affiliate).

Data Sharing and Declaration

The investigators are committed to sharing the data generated through this research, however, data collection is currently ongoing and is not currently publicly available. Under the terms of our grant, we intend to make data available to the wider research community within 12 months following the completion of data collection. This includes all self-report, neurocognitive, and imaging parameters which will be included in the database, along with demographic information that does not risk confidentiality.

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Correspondence to Michael I. Demidenko.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies 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. The study has been granted ethical approval by the University of Michigan Institutional review Board.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from parents of all minor participants included in the study. Minor participants also provided assent to participate. Participants age 18 and older provided informed consent to participate.

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Demidenko, M.I., Huntley, E.D., Martz, M.E. et al. Adolescent Health Risk Behaviors: Convergent, Discriminant and Predictive Validity of Self-Report and Cognitive Measures. J Youth Adolescence 48, 1765–1783 (2019).

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