Risky Business

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Four people at a science fair.

Third place winner Joseph Yagoda with NIDA's judges Dr. Pam Ling, Dr. Ruben Baler and Dr. Cindy Miner.

Have you ever cut class? If so, what goes through your mind…how do you tell yourself it’s ok? And what would discourage you from doing it? Believe it or not, those were the questions asked by one of NIDA’s Addiction Science Fair winners this year—Joseph Hunter Yagoda, a 17-year-old student at the William A. Shine Great Neck High School in Great Neck, N.Y.

He won the third place award for his analysis of the thought process that goes into a teenager's decision to cut classes at school. He titled it "Risky Business: What Cognitive Factors Influence Risk Taking in the Academic Setting?" He figured out a way to measure why teens cut class and what their perceived benefits were of attending class. He learned that one of the biggest reasons students cut class is because they think “everyone else does it.” So he has recommended that schools create smaller social spaces, so it will never appear that a lot of people are out of class at one time. He also found out that fewer teens would cut class if attendance rules were more strongly enforced, with real consequences. And [shock], he suggested that teachers make classes more interesting and useful so students would WANT to attend class. Now that’s an idea SBB really likes!

What does all of this have to do with addiction? Cutting classes can sidetrack you in risky ways…For one, teens tend to cut non-academic classes, like health and P.E. and so miss a lot of information taught about substance abuse. Second, we all know that when you skip school, you can get tempted to goof off in other ways, like smoking and drinking. But I’m not telling you something you don’t already know!

NIDA’s Addiction Science award is given at the annual Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF), which was in San Jose this year. For more information see NIDA’s news release at http://www.nida.nih.gov/newsroom/10/NR5-14.html

What unique question would you want to answer in a science project?

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