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2012. Vol.3, No.8, 558-561
Published Online August 2012 in SciRes (http://www.SciRP.org/journal/psych) http://dx.doi.org/10.4236/psych.2012.38083
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
The Relation between Five-Factor Personality Traits and
Risk-Taking Behavior in Preadolescents
Ronnie L. McGhee1, David J. Ehrler1, Joseph A. Buckhalt2, Carol Phillips3
1Clocktower Hill Research and Publishing Group, Rome, USA
2Auburn University, Auburn, USA
3Lee County School System, Leesburg, USA
Received February 18th, 2012 ; revised April 5th, 201 2; ac cepte d June 7 th, 2012
The predictive relation between Five-Factor Model (FFM) personality traits using the Five Factor Per-
sonality Inventory-Children (FFPI-C) and degrees of risk-taking in preadolescents (ages 10 to 12) was
studied in a sample of 50 fifth-graders. Results indicated that high Extraversion and Openness to Experi-
ence and low Conscientiousness were correlated with high risk-taking. The FFPI-C factors were signifi-
cantly predictive of risk-taking behavior, and accounted for 42% of the risk-taking variance, based on a
multiple regression analysis. These findings suggest that the same mechanisms that are associated with
adult risk-taking may already be present in children as young as 10 to 12 years of age.
Keywords: Risk-Taking; Five Factor Model; Preadolescents; Personality; Child Development
High and low risk-taking behavior in preadolescence can
take many forms (e.g. avoiding learning to swim, climbing to
the highest tree limb, coin flipping to decide possession of the
last cookie, accepting a dare to damage property, unwillingness
to guess on a test question, using illegal drugs, participating in a
drama club, shop lifting, and having unprotected sex with a
stranger). Some of these behaviors have benign consequences
while others may be life threatening. Although several defini-
tions of risk-taking exist, the authors consider the one proffered
by The Centre for Cancer Education, University of Newcastle
(2007) to be exceptionally well operationalized: “Undertaking a
task involving a challenge for achievement or desirable goal in
which there is a lack of certainty or a fear of failure. It may also
include the exhibiting of certain behaviors whose outcomes
may present a risk to the individual and/or to those associated
with him or her.”
Risk-taking in adolescence has been a focus of research for a
long time, but few theoretical frameworks have been advanced
to guide satisfactory explanations and successful interventions
(Steinberg, 2004, 2007). Additionally, the nature of risk-taking
in preadolescence is not well conceived at this time, as 1) there
are few scientific studies examining this personal trait at this
age; and 2) there is no comprehensive predictive model of
risk-taking in preadolescence (Furby & Beyth-Marom, 1992).
Intra-individual predispositions, often referred to as person-
ality traits, are proposed to be important in the prediction of
high and low risk-taking behavior. In this model, degrees of
risk-taking are a function of self-regulatory aspects of personal-
ity (Hoyle, 2006). An example of this relation is reported by
Huth-Bocks (2008) who found that sensation-seeking behavior
(substance abuse and unsafe sex) in university students was
associated with high extraversion in females and low agree-
ableness and low conscientiousness in the entire sample (males
The Five-Factor Model (FFM) of personality has become a
“standard vocabulary or nomenclature” (John, 1990) used by
researchers to describe intra-individual predispositions (i.e.,
temperament). According to this model, the dimensions of the
FFM represent the fundamental ways in which persons differ
(McCrae & John, 1992) and both explain present behavior and
predict future actions (in this case, risk-taking behavior). Table
1 presents descriptions of the FFM personality dimensions.
The relation between FFM personality traits and risk-taking
in adolescents and adults is well established in the research
literature. Mecca (2003) reported strong relations between
pathological gambling and the FFM traits of neuroticism,
agreeableness, and conscientiousness while Hoyle, Feifar and
Miller (2000) found a relation between sexual risk-taking in
adults and the traits of neuroticism and conscientiousness. Gul-
lone and Moore (2000) investigated the relation between ado-
lescent risk-taking judgments and the five-factor model of per-
sonality. They reported that high risk-taking girls scored higher
on scales of neuroticism, agreeableness and conscientiousness
than boys. Taken together, risk judgments, personality factors,
age and sex were found to be significant predictors of risk be-
haviors in adolescents. Finally, Zuckerman and Kuhlman (2000)
studied a college student sample and found that generalized
risk-taking was related to scales for impulsive sensation seeking,
aggression, and sociability, but not to scales for neuroticism or
Given our review of the literature, it is evident that aspects of
the FFM are correlated with, and predictive of, risk-taking be-
havior in adolescents and adults. As researchers have found the
FFM to be stable from childhood adulthood (Aklin et al., 2004;
Asendorpf & Van Aken, 2003), it is therefore hypothesized that
FFM personality traits in preadolescents, too, are correlated
with, and predictive of, risk-taking behavior. In the present
study, we seek to identify the predictive relation between the
FFM personality traits to risk-taking in preadolescents, an un-
derstudied population. The research questions in this study are
R. L. MCGHEE ET AL.
Description of the Five-Factor Model of personality dimensions.
Personality Dimension Code Description
Agreeableness A One’s propen sity to be trustin g , altruistic, compliant, modest, genuine, and sympathe tic toward others.
Extraversion E One’s propensity to be gregarious, assertive, friendly, excitement-seeking, fast-paced, and high-spirited.
Openness t o Experience O One’s propensity to be intellectually c urious, appreciative of novelty, interested in art, music, and beauty,
and imaginative and creative.
Conscientiousness C One’s propensity to be duti ful, orderly, self-disciplined, deliberate, and a chievement striving.
Emotional R egulati o n ( Neuroticism)* R One’s propensity to be resistant to stress, a n xiety, depression, anger/hosti lit y, and self-consciousness.
Note: *The FFM instrument employed in this study utilizes the term “Emotional Regulation” and is considered synonymous with Neuroticism.
as follows: 1) Are FFM personality traits related to risk-taking
behavior in preadolescents using an experimental measure of
risk of failure, and 2) Can risk-taking behavior be profiled
through a predictive model using the FFM of personality?
Participants in the study were drawn from a public school
system in Georgia, USA. Two heterogeneously grouped 5th
grade homeroom classrooms were randomly selected from nine
5th grade classrooms. Of the 50 potential participants, all pro-
vided parental consent and personal assent to participate, and
all 50 potential participants completed the study. Twenty-seven
participants were male and 23 were female. Forty of the par-
ticipants self-identified as White or Caucasian, 7 identified as
Black or African-American, two identified as Hispanic, and one
identified as Asian. The average age of the participants was 11
years; the youngest participant was 10 and the oldest participant
Instruments and Procedures
Personality Assessment. The personality assessment compo-
nent of the study was conducted first. The Five Factor Person-
ality Inventory-Children (FFPI-C; McGhee, Ehrler, & Buckhalt,
2007) was group administered in one session to each class fol-
lowing standardized instructions stated in the manual and then
were scored by two experienced school psychologists. The
FFPI-C is a standardized measure of the FFM for children and
adolescents between the ages of 9 - 0 and 18 - 11. The FFPI-C
consists of 75 items and can be completed as either an indi-
vidually or group administered self-report inventory. The scale
labels are consistent with FFM descriptive lexicon, including
Agreeableness, Extraversion, Openness to Experience, Consci-
entiousness, and Emotional Regulation. High T-scores repre-
sent high levels of the respective FFM personality trait, whereas
low T-scores represent low levels of the respective FFM per-
sonality trait. Suldo and Steward (2008), in a review of the
FFPI-C, found the instrument to have adequate psychometric
characteristics for research purposes and support for construct
Risk-Taking Task. To evaluate risk-taking behavior in this
study in a manner conforming to the previously cited definition
(Centre for Cancer Education, University of Newcastle, 2007),
we created a novel decision-making task that included the ele-
ments of fear of failure and uncertainty. In this task, children’s
propensity to make a choice that involves high-risk of failure or
opt for a known safe choice was evaluated and recorded. Par-
ticipants were presented with three opportunities to make
choices that varied in degree of potential for success and failure.
One choice was guaranteed a success, but the reward had
minimal value. The other choices had high potential for failure
(75 percent chance), but success yielded a reward with consid-
erably greater value (10 times the value of the safe choice).
Individual participants entered an office containing a table,
desk and two chairs. They were instructed to sit down facing
the examiner at the desk. The examiner then gave the following
“You are going to play a decision-making game. You will
have three chances [rounds of the game] to make a choice with
the possibility of earning treats. So, before we plan this game,
which of these treat would you like the chance to find and keep
[examiner gestures to one type of fruit and two types of candy
and waits for the participant to choose]? Great, now look at
these cups [examiner gestures to five plastic cups]. There is one
blue cup and 4 red cups. I will put one treat under the blue cup
and place it in the middle [examiner gestures to middle of table].
Remember, there will always be one treat under the blue cup. I
will then place ten treats under one of the red cups, but you will
not know which of the four red cups they will be under. When I
say ready, chose only one cup by pointing. If there are treats
under your chosen cup, they are yours to keep. Remember, you
will have three chances to play this game. Do you understand?”
On completion of the oral directions and choosing their pre-
ferred treats, participants were shown five plastic cups; one
blue cup and 4 red cups. In view of the participant, one piece of
the chosen treat was placed under the blue cup and positioned
in the middle of the table. The examiner then placed 10 chosen
treats in 1 red cup. The remaining 3 red cups were shown to the
participant as having nothing under them. A cardboard partition
was placed between the participant and the examiner and the 4
red cups were placed in line with the blue cup; two to the right
and 2 to the left of the blue cup. The position of the “10-treat
red cup” was predetermined for each round of the game (posi-
tion 2 for round 1, position 4 for round 2, and position 4 for
round 3). The barrier was then removed and the participant was
instructed to choose one cup by pointing. Once choice was
made, the location of the choice was recorded and the cup
overturned. If a treat(s) was under the chosen cup, they were
placed in a bag labeled with the child’s name for later dispersal.
All cups were then overturned. This procedure was repeated for
the last two rounds. Participants who completed the study were
sequestered so that no information about the exercise could be
shared among succeeding participants. Figure 1 illustrates the
physical layout used in the task.
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 559
R. L. MCGHEE ET AL.
Risk-taking task arrangement.
Means and standard deviations for scores on risk-taking and
FFPI-C scales are presented in Table 2. Correlations between
risk-taking scores and FFM personality dimensions and FFPI-C
inter-scale correlations are reported in Table 3. The statistical
significance of correlations is distinguished at both the .05
and .01 alpha levels. Using Hopkins’ (2002) Likert-scale ap-
proach to evaluating the magnitude of absolute correlations,
correlations between .0 and .1 are considered very small to
trivial, coefficients between .1 and .3 are small, coefficients
between .3 and .5 are moderate, coefficients between .5 and .7
are large, and coefficients between .7 and 1.00 are very large.
Variable Mean Standard Deviation
Risk-Taking Choices .84 .93
Agreeableness (A) 51.74 9.76
Extraversion (E) 50.56 9.87
Openness to Experience (O) 49.86 9.73
Conscientiou sness ( C ) 51.86 8.72
Emotional Regulatio n ( R) 53.64 9.05
Note: reported FFPIC scores are T scores.
Correlations among Risk-Taking Choices and Personality Fa ct ors.
Choices A E O C R
Risk-Taking Choices --
Agreeableness (A) –.253 --
Extraversion (E) –.539** .334* --
Openness to Experience (O) .330* –.397** –.129 --
Conscientiou sness ( C ) –.316* –.588** .486** –.231 --
Emotional Regulatio n ( R) –.213 –.288* .263 .140–.438** --
Note: **Correlations are significant at the .01 alpha level. *Correlations are sig-
nificant at the .05 alpha level.
As presented in Table 3, of the FFPI-C scales, Extraversion
significantly correlated to a large degree with risk-taking and
Openness to Experience correlated moderately with risk-taking.
Conscientiousness correlated moderately and negatively with
risk-taking. That is, participants who self-reported having a
highly conscientious disposition were less likely to engage in
risk-taking. Small and non-significant correlations were found
between risk-taking and FFPI-C scales of Agreeableness and
To determine the predictive contribution of the FFM to
risk-taking behavior, a multiple regression analysis was conducted.
Risk-taking was regressed onto the FFM dimensions as measured
by the FFPI-C scales. The FFM was found to be significant in
the prediction of risk-taking behavior, F(5, 44) = 6.364, p
< .001. The overall model accounted for 42% of the variance in
risk-taking choices (R2 = .42). Of the FFM dimensions,
Extraversion and Openness to Experience added significantly to
the prediction of risk-taking behavior. Openness to Experience
(Beta = .419, p = .004) accounted for the greatest variance
when predicting risk-taking behavior, while Extraversion (Beta
= .36,1 p = .013) accounted for slightly less variance.
Agreeableness (Beta = –.246, p = .119), Conscientiousness
(Beta = –.120, p = .470), and Emotional Regulation (Beta
= .065, p = .633) were non-significant in the prediction model.
Large relations were identified between high risk-taking and
certain FFM traits. Specifically, preadolescents when engaged
in the highest risk-taking were found to be extroverted (high
extraversion), open to new experiences (high openness to ex-
perience) and lacking in conscientiousness (low conscientious-
ness). It is not surprising that Extraversion was found to be
positively correlated with high levels of risk-taking behavior.
McCrae & Costa (1990) report several subfacets of the Extra-
version factor that appear to incorporate the propensity for sen-
sation seeking and risk-taking behaviors. Furthermore, since the
broad definition of Openness is a willingness to make oneself
available to new experiences, it is hypothesized that children
with this profile were intrigued by participating in a novel di-
lemma game and may have viewed the riskier choice as more
interesting. Regarding the finding that children with high levels
of conscientiousness were less likely to take risks in the exer-
cise, it is our hypothesis that they are unwilling to venture fail-
ure, even in low stakes situations. One subfacet of Conscien-
tiousness is the strong desire to be correct; sometimes to the
point of perfectionism. Given this predisposition, we would
expect children low in Contentiousness to be unencumbered by
fear of failure. Although no significant relation was found be-
tween risk-taking and the personality traits of neuroticism and
agreeableness, these findings are not surprising given that the
experimental risk-taking task did not involve participation in
behaviors with elicitation of strong emotion or stress, nor did it
involve social coercion, manipulation, or collaboration (i.e.
there was no mechanism present that might be construed as
requiring a strong “pull” from the agreeableness trait). Overall,
we can conclude that factors that are associated with adult
risk-taking behavior (e.g. Huth-Bock, 1996) also appear present
in children as young as 10 to 12 years of age.
Our findings support the conclusion that risk-taking behavior
can be identified through a predictive model using intra-individual
predispositions, as specified using the FFM of personality.
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
R. L. MCGHEE ET AL.
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 561
When all five FFPI-C scales were included in a multiple re-
gression analysis with level of risk-taking set as the dependent
variable, the dimensions of Extraversion and Openness to Ex-
perience added significantly to the prediction of risk-taking
behavior. Openness to Experience accounted for the greatest
variance while Extraversion accounted for slightly less variance.
Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, and Emotional Regulation
were non-significant in the prediction model.
There remain many unanswered questions about the relation
between personality and risk-taking in preadolescents. First, the
risk-taking task in this study focused on “fear-of-failure” and
not “fear-of-loss”. Had it examined the latter, findings may hav e
been different. Secondly, the current study examined risk-taking
in a very narrow age-range and did not involve a longitudinal
perspective. Thirdly, we concur with other researchers (Lavery,
1993; Steinberg, 2007) who argue that risk-taking is a multi-
dimensional phenomenon involving personality correlates, self-
regulating processes, and most likely cognitive aspects of deci-
sion-making including executive functions. Use of personality
traits alone to model risk-taking behavior in children may be
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