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hol because it allows the estimation of the many options, consequences, and uncertainties that an adolescent might face when making such a decision.

It is clear from the previous research that decision making about underage drinking (or any other risky behavior) is a product of interactions among a number of different competencies, situations, and emotional states. Thus, studies that focus exclusively on discerning age differences in cognitive competence may tell us only what adolescents can do under ideal conditions, rather than what they will do under more realistic conditions when personal goals, beliefs, prior experience, values, and emotions are added to the decision-making equation (Jacobs and Klaczynski, 2002). Although important, this narrow definition of competence may miss the part of decision making that is most closely related to the risk taking behaviors that are of interest to policy makers and parents and that may distinguish adolescents from adults. Several components of decision making have not typically been captured when the focus has been on cognitive competence, including biased social judgments, motivation, and self-perceptions. The remainder of this chapter reviews our current knowledge about those three topics, then concludes by making some observations about the potential implications of this research for our understanding of adolescent risk taking behaviors.


The overriding theme in the adult judgment and decision-making literature has been that adults commonly fall prey to judgment biases, ignore important information, rely on seemingly inappropriate decision making shortcuts, and make nonoptimal decisions across a wide array of situations when they are making social judgments (for reviews see Dawes, 1988; Nisbett, 1993; Plous, 1993). Thus, research on adult judgment and decision making has focused on when and how decision making deviates from normative models. If adults, who have more experience and knowledge about the world, can fall prey to judgment biases under certain conditions, it is not surprising that adolescents might be at even greater risk of succumbing to such biases when making social judgments.

Nonoptimal Decisions Due to the Task

The task of making sound decisions about social situations, including those that involve opportunities for drinking alcohol, may be inherently more difficult than making decisions about nonsocial topics. We know from previous research with adult populations that the use of nonnormative decision strategies is directly related to the social context and content surrounding the decision situation. Adults are more likely to use nonnormative

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