On 9 September at 10.00 Kadi Luht-Kallas will defend her doctoral thesis "Risk-taking behaviour: Relationship with personality and markers of heritability, and an intervention to prevent unintentional injury".
Supervisors: Dr. Diva Eensoo (PhD; National Institute for Health Development), Prof. Jaanus Harro (MD, PhD; University of Tartu)
Opponent: Prof. Christian Montag (PhD; University of Ulm, Germany)
Injury deaths are often caused by risk-taking behaviour that in turn is associated with several personality factors (e.g., impulsivity) that are to a large degree heritable. Impulsive behaviour is strongly related to the functioning of both serotonin and dopamine systems. The main aims of this thesis were to find out 1) links between risk-taking behaviour and personality factors and markers of the function of the serotonin and dopamine systems, and 2) whether a previously used brief intervention to prevent risk-taking behaviour is still successful if conducted by driving school teachers. Since risk-taking behaviour and the factors influencing it can differ in teenager and adult age, three different samples were used: sixth grade students (n=699), 15-18-year-old students who participated in the longitudinal study (n=483) and driving school students (n=1441). The results revealed that risk-taking has significant links with certain personality traits (e.g., impulsivity, extraversion, effortful control), higher activity of the dopamine system and lower activity of the serotonin system, but also with knowledge and skills. The results confirmed that the brief psychological intervention helps to reduce risk-taking behaviour. The efficiency of the intervention suggests that if the personal and biological factors causing risk-taking behaviour are known, teachers can deal with them. In addition to the knowledge of dangers, different situations need to be practiced and played through to increase the role of conscious behaviour in the decision-making process, and therefore to decrease the influence of unconscious and impulsive decision-making. In addition to the development of technical skills (e.g., riding a bike, driving a car, making fire, swimming), there is also a need to develop safety-related (evaluation of situation-related dangers) and social skills (e.g., self-control, consideration of others) associated with this activity.