Psychology Ph.D. Dissertations


Risky Living: A Comparison of Criminal Risk-Taking and Risk Perception in Adolescent and Young Adult Non Offenders and Offenders

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Advisor

Marie S. Tisak, PhD (Committee Co-Chair)

Second Advisor

John Tisak, PhD (Committee Co-Chair)

Third Advisor

Stephen Cernkovich, PhD (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Carolyn Tompsett, PhD (Committee Member)


The main purpose of this study was to assess similarities and differences in criminal risk-taking and risk perception in adolescent and young adult nonoffenders and offenders. A total of 423 people (54 adolescent male nonoffenders, 69 adolescent female nonoffenders, 51 adolescent male offenders, 40 adolescent female offenders, 50 young adult male nonoffenders, 58 young adult female nonoffenders, 51 young adult male offenders, and 50 young adult female offenders) participated in this study. Participants completed six questionnaires. Two of the questionnaires assessed participants' risk-taking and four of the questionnaires assessed participants' risk perception. Significant age, gender, and offender status differences were found between participants in terms of criminal risk-taking and risk perception. When significant results were obtained, in general, young adults, males, and offenders engaged in more risk-taking and viewed engagement in criminal risk behaviors as less risky than adolescents, females, and nonoffenders, respectively. Depending on how risk perception was measured and on the criminal risk behaviors used, different results were obtained. This highlights the importance of assessing various types of risk perception and assessing criminal risk behaviors by crime domains. In addition it was also found that risk perception can be used to predict risk-taking. This study demonstrates the need to further explore this topic in order to ensure adolescents are treated fairly in the juvenile justice system and to provide the best possible intervention and treatment programs.