The role of self-presentation in adolescent health risk behaviours
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Self-presentation has been identified as playing a key role in the perfonnance of various potentially hazardous health behaviours such as substance abuse, eating disorders and reckless behaviours (Leary, Tchividjian, & Kraxberger, 1994; Martin & Leary, 2001; Martin, Leary, & O'Brien, 2001). The present study investigated the role of selfpresentation on adolescent health-risk behaviours. Specifically, this study examined the prevalence of adolescent identified health-risk behaviours rooted in self-presentational motives in youths aged 13-18 years. The current study also identified the specific images associated with these behaviours desired by youth, and the targets of these behaviours. Also, the relationship between these behaviours, and several trait measures (social physique anxiety, public-self consciousness, fear of negative evaluations, selfpresentational efficacy) of self-presentation were examined. Finally, the gender differences in health risk behaviours and self-presentational concerns were examined. Participants in the present study were 96 adolescent students, 34 male and 62 female, recruited from various private schools across Southern Ontario. Students ranged in age from 13 to 18 years for both males (M age = 15.81 years, SD = 1.49) and females (M age = 14.89 years, SD = 1.17) and ranged from grades 8 through 13. Results of the current study suggested that Canadian adolescents between the ages of 13 and 18 years participated in health risk behaviours for self-presentational purposes. Drinking alcohol, skipping school, and performing stunts and dares were identified as the most common health risk behaviours performed for self-presentational purposes by both males and females. Appearing fun and cool were the most commonly reported desired images while appearing brave and mature were the least reported. The most desired target group cited was same sex friends, followed by other sex friends. Trait measures of self-presentational concerns identified females as being higher in public self-consciousness, and social physique anxiety than males. Males were found to be higher in self-presentational efficacy than females. The total number of health risk behaviours was predicted by selfpresentational efficacy and social physique anxiety for males, and social physique anxiety for females. Findings of the current study suggest that Canadian adolescents' health risk behaviours are rooted, in part, in self-presentational motives. Thus far, an educational approach to health interventions has been favoured and/or adopted by teachers, health promoters, and educators (Jessor, 1992). Implications of the current study suggest that although educational interventions are beneficial in presenting the associated risks with certain activities and/or behaviours, one reason this type of approach may be ineffective in changing adolescent behaviour over the long run is that it does not address the strong and prominent influences of interpersonal motives on health damaging behaviour. It is evident that social acceptance and public image are of importance to adolescents, and the desire to make the "right" impression and to achieve peer approval and acceptance often override health and safety concerns (Jessor, 1992). Thus, a self-presentational approach focusing on changing the images associated with the behaviours may be more successful at deterring adolescent health risk behaviours.