ADHD News & Research

Why Do People Engage In Risky Behaviors? How Perceived Benefit Motivates Adults with ADHD

Why do people with ADHD sometimes take out-sized risks? A new study suggests that adults with ADHD over-estimate perceived benefits, leading them to engage in relatively more risky behavior as a result.

September 21, 2020

Perceived benefit plays a significant role in explaining why adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD or ADD) experience increased engagement in risky behavior (ERB), according to a new study published in the Journal of Attention Disorders.1 Specifically, adults with ADHD are more likely to over-estimate benefits when weighing a decision, leading them to relatively riskier behaviors, the research suggests.

For the study, 97 adults with ADHD, ages 20-40, were administered two questionnaires designed to compare different ways of conceptualizing decision-making under risk. The Adult Risk-Taking Inventory (ARTI) — comprising 40 descriptions of risky behavior — was administered first. The Characteristics of Adult Risk-Taking Inventory (CHARTI) then asked respondents to rate 15 risky behaviors from the ARTI according to 25 characteristics. Risky behaviors were selected based on their prevalence in the ADHD population (i.e. substance use, gambling, financial investment) and on the basis of their psychometric properties.

Researchers found that perceptions of benefit, but not perceptions of risk, accounted for the link between ADHD symptoms and ERB. Both measures of perceived benefit were positively correlated with ERB: the greater the perceived benefit of the activity, the higher the likelihood of engaging in it. Both measures of perceived risk were negatively correlated with ERB: the greater the perceived risk of the activity, the lower the likelihood of engaging in it, although, perceived risk did not mediate the linkage between ADHD and ERB.

Contrary to previous research, weaker attitudes toward the perceived benefits (in ARTI) did not significantly correlate with ADHD symptoms nor did they mediate ERB. The psychometric model (wherein respondents rated 25 characteristics of risky behaviors) demonstrated that the association between ERB and ADHD symptom level was mediated by a negative attitude toward perceived risk, but not by the attitudes toward the perceived benefit (in CHARTI).

These findings suggest that ADHD symptoms are associated with stronger perceptions of the anticipated benefits of engaging in risky behaviors. Attitudes toward the perceived risk were also found to play a role, suggesting that adults with ADHD are less averse to risk. Researchers suggest that adults with ADHD might rate the benefits of risky behavior so highly because of common ADHD personality traits, such as delay-aversion and sensation-seeking.

Clinicians should consider these findings when treating risk-taking, and consider the ways patients view positive outcomes, rather than how they assess potential risks.

View Article Sources

1Shoham R, Sonuga-Barke E, Yaniv I, Pollak Y. What Drives Risky Behavior in ADHD: Insensitivity to its Risk or Fascination with its Potential Benefits? Journal of Attention Disorders. August 2020. doi:10.1177/1087054720950820