Problem Behavior Theory and Adolescent Risk Behavior: A Re-Formulation

  • Richard JessorEmail author
Part of the Advancing Responsible Adolescent Development book series (ARAD)


This chapter reports a re-formulation of Problem Behavior Theory into the risk and protective factor concepts of epidemiology. A comprehensive risk and protective factor conceptual framework is presented, and Problem Behavior Theory is shown to be a particular approach embedded in that larger, explanatory framework. The concepts of risk and protection are analyzed, as is the concept of risk behavior, and a sharp distinction is drawn between risk behavior and so-called risk-taking behavior, with the latter considered a source of explanatory confusion. Five ‘causal’ domains of risk factors and protective factors are articulated—biology/genetics; social environment; perceived environment; personality; and behavior—and examples of Problem Behavior Theory risk factors and protective factors in each domain are presented. Linkages of each of those domains with risk behaviors are illustrated, as is the linkage between engaging in risk behavior and health- or life-compromising outcomes.


Risk behavior Psychosocial risk Risk factors Protective factors Risk outcomes Lifestyle Problem Behavior Theory Problem behavior syndrome Behavioral epidemiology 



I am indebted to Drs. John E. Donovan and Frances Costa, who have been my colleagues in the research that has shaped some of the ideas in this paper. The support of the W. T. Grant Foundation (Grant No. 88119488) for research on adolescent health behaviors is gratefully acknowledged. My experience on the Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development and my role in the MacArthur Foundation’s Research Program on Successful Adolescent Development among Youth in High-Risk Settings have helped me to think more deeply about some of the issues addressed here.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Behavioral ScienceUniversity of Colorado at BoulderBoulderUSA

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