A look at health risk-taking behaviors and sensation seeking in NAIA college athletes

Downey, Darcy Loy
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Studies indicate a high level of risk taking behavior among student-athletes in the college setting. There are questions as to whether risk-taking behaviors stem from the unique social and academic environment experienced by intercollegiate athletes, or due to other factors such as sensation seeking or other personality traits, perceived norms, peer influence or an amplification of the common college experience of experimentation. However, most research has focused on student-athletes from the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). This study examined (1) health risk taking behaviors, (2) sensation seeking and (3) perceived norms among gender and sport-type (contact or non-contact) in a National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) population. Participants (N=63) completed a 78-item questionnaire and reported on risk-taking behaviors (alcohol, marijuana, gambling and sexual risks, for a 12 month period), sensation seeking and perceived norms. Findings from this research indicate that non-contact athletes are more likely than contact athletes to use alcohol during the season of competition. Male and female athletes showed not significant differences in alcohol use, marijuana use and sexual risk behaviors, they did however, have significant differences in gambling behavior. High sensation seekers show strong, positive correlations with alcohol frequency and quantity during the off-season. Perceptions of others (athletes/teammates and general college population) health risk-taking behaviors are higher than their own behaviors. Additional research is needed in many of these domains to further elucidate the relationships and significance of these findings.