Risk taking as a contributing factor to driving while under the influence of alcohol

Matthew Francis Curran, Fordham University


The purpose of this study was to investigate the influence of sensation seeking and impulsivity on the risk taking behavior of individuals convicted of driving while impaired or intoxicated. Zuckerman theorized a biological predisposition toward high sensation seeking and risky behavior, and stated that the sensation seeking trait was related to an optimal level of catecholamine system activity in the limbic area of the brain. Additional research by Zuckerman and colleagues also stressed the role of impulsivity in identifying risk takers. Zuckerman and Kuhlman identified sensation seeking and impulsivity as part of a broad factor of their Alternative Five-Factor Model of personality. All hypotheses in this study were derived in a manner consistent with the investigator's interpretation of Zuckerman's theories. The sample consisted of 160 adults selected from two groups: individuals convicted of impaired or intoxicated driving, and individuals who have never been arrested for DWUI/DWI offenses. Each participant was given the SSS-V, ImpSS, and an informational sheet (A or B), depending on group status. Three hypotheses were tested. The first tested whether motorists convicted of DWUI/DWI would score higher in measures of risk taking (SSS-V and ImpSS) than the general population of motorists, and examined the theoretical assumption that sensation seeking and impulsivity would be higher in the DWUI/DWI group. The second hypothesized that each of the SSS-V subscales (TAS, ES, Dis, and BS) would account for a significant portion of social and physical risk taking. The third investigated whether women convicted of DWUI/DWI would be significantly higher than the non-DWUI/DWI population of women in risk taking measures. A significant difference was found for all hypotheses for the DWUI/DWI group. The most salient results of the study indicated that the SSS-V and ImpSS scales could be used as investigative tools to measure the level of risk taking in a given population of motorists. Both instruments showed significant differences between the DWUI/DWI sample and the sample representing the general driving population. Several conceptual issues were discussed in an effort to integrate present findings with past research regarding sensation seeking and impulsivity. Recommendations for future research were also made.

Subject Area

Personality|Physiological psychology

Recommended Citation

Curran, Matthew Francis, "Risk taking as a contributing factor to driving while under the influence of alcohol" (2006). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3210263.