Psychology, Department of


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Published in Behavior Therapy 30 (1999), pp. 5–15. Copyright © 1999 by the Association for Advancement of Behavior Therapy. Used by permission.


This paper explored a model that predicted children’s actual injury risk behavior from their current typical reported reactions of excitement versus fear in risky play situations. Fourth-grade children were asked to report on their current typical levels of fear and excitement in response to common play situations, including those involving play in the water. A week or more later, the same children were observed during their turn at free play on the diving board of a local swimming pool. Reporting that current responses to risky play situations resulted in fear was related to lower rates of actual risky behavior and higher rates of protective behavior, whereas reporting current responses of exhilaration to risky situations was related to higher rates of some kinds of actual risky behavior. These relationships were even stronger when only water-related play situations were considered. The data are consistent with findings from observed behavior where the risk was academic, social, or sports-related failure rather than injury. Further, this is the first study to document that children’s perceptions of their own current cognitive reactions to risky play situations predict their actual concurrent risky behavior in a potential physical injury situation. Thus, these findings suggest an important tool for future prevention programs.