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Warning Teens about Risks is Not Effective, Study Reports

Update Date: Sep 09, 2013 03:20 PM EDT

Since teenagers and adults are very different groups of people, creating programs to help with smoking cessation requires different types of methods. In a recent study published in The Lancet, researchers found that a national federally funded anti-smoking campaign, Tips, was effective in getting adult smokers to quit. The program focused on educating people about the dangers of smoking and provided them with resources that would help them quit. Even though this program was effective, a new study found that for teenagers specifically, warning them about the risks involved might not be the most effective way of getting them to quit or preventing them from starting.

In this study, the research team from the University of College London (UCL) enlisted the help of volunteers between the ages of nine and 26. The researchers asked the young participants whether or not they felt that they would experience huge life altering events, such as car accidents or developing cancer. The researchers then gave the participants real statistics about those life events and found that each participant slightly changed their own beliefs about their risks based on whether or not they underestimated or overestimated their likelihoods of experiencing the events.

The researchers found that the younger the participants were, the less likely they were in adjusting their beliefs after receiving information about the actual statistics that revealed that their future was bleaker than they presumed. The researchers concluded that even though younger people might discover the reality of future threats, they did not seem to be as fazed by the, as the older participants were. On the other hand, however, the researchers found that when people of all ages in the study found out that their future was better than what they predicted, the participants became more willing to adjust their beliefs and change their lifestyles for the better.  

"The findings could help to explain the limited impact of campaigns targets at young people to highlight the dangers of careless driving, unprotected sex, alcohol and drug abuse, and other risk behaviors," Dr. Christina Moutsiana, the lead author of the study, said.

The senior author of the study and a Wellcome Trust Research Fellow added, "We think we're invincible when we're young and any parent will tell you that warnings often go unheeded. Our findings show that if you want to get young people to better learn about the risks associated with their choices, you might want to focus on the benefits that a positive change would bring rather than hounding them with horror stories."

The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS)

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