Individual differences in risk-taking and associated characteristics : a test of specificity in executive functions /
Dyke, Danielle I.
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Multiple measures have been devised by clinicians and theorists from many different backgrounds for the purpose of assessing the influence of the frontal lobes on behaviour. Some utilize self-report measures to investigate behavioural characteristics such as risktaking, sensation seeking, impulsivity, and sensitivity to reward and punishment in an attempt to understand complex human decision making. Others rely more on neuroimaging and electrophysiological investigation involving experimental tasks thought to demonstrate executive functions in action, while other researchers prefer to study clinical populations with selective damage. Neuropsychological models of frontal lobe functioning have led to a greater appreciation of the dissociations among various aspects of prefrontal cortex function. This thesis involves (1) an examination of various psychometric and experimental indices of executive functions for coherence as one would predict on the basis of highly developed neurophysiological models of prefrontal function, particularly those aspects of executive function that involve predominantly cognitive abilities versus processes characterized by affect regulation; and (2) investigation of the relations between risk-taking, attentional abilties and their associated characteristics using a neurophysiological model of prefrontal functions addressed in (1). Late adolescence is a stage in which the prefrontal cortices undergo intensive structural and functional maturational changes; this period also involves increases in levels of risky and sensation driven behaviours, as well as a hypersensitivity to reward and a reduction in inhibition. Consequently, late adolescence spears to represent an ideal developmental period in which to examine these decision-making behaviours due to the maximum variability of behavioural characteristics of interest. Participants were 45 male undergraduate 18- to 19-year olds, who completed a battery of measures that included self-report, experimental and behavioural measures designed to assess particular aspects of prefrontal and executive functioning. As predicted, factor analysis supported the grouping of executive process by type (either primarily cognitive or affective), conforming to the orbitofrontal versus dorsolateral typology; risk-taking and associated characteristics were associated more with the orbitofrontal than the dorsolateral factor, whereas attentional and planning abilities tended to correlate more strongly with the dorsolateral factor. Results are discussed in light of future assessment, investigation and understanding of complex human decision-making and executive functions. Implications, applications and suggestions for future research are also proposed.