Evaluating the Importance of Risk-Benefit Analysis for Risky Behaviors among Individuals with Non-Suicidal Self Injury (NSSI)

By: Abbey Delk

Kathryn Evans, a junior at Fordham College at Rose Hill majoring in psychology and sociology and minoring in bioethics, is currently working on research for the Mood and Behaviors Lab at Fordham. Her research focuses on risk-benefit analysis in people with a history of non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI). This area of study mostly centers around understanding risk factors associated with NSSI and why people engage in these behaviors.

Evans first got involved with the Mood and Behaviors Lab after taking a course about behavior modification with Dr. Peggy Andover, an associate professor in Fordham’s Psychology department. Dr. Andover helped Evans through the process of applying for an undergraduate research grant and started said project with her over the summer.

In her research, Evans studies several factors associated with NSSI, including versatility (number of methods of self-harm), frequency of self-harm, and the difference between methods of self-harm when it comes to how an individual evaluates a particular method in terms of risk versus benefit. She looks at how often an individual used a specific method of self-harm and how often an individual self-harmed in general.

Evans is particularly interested in how an individual’s evaluation of risk versus benefit for self-harm behaviors might translate to evaluating the risks and benefits of other “risky” behaviors. Evans explained that the kind of risk-benefit analysis she uses involves asking a respondent to rate the benefits of a behavior compared to its potential risk in order to discover how engaging in self-harm affects one’s evaluation of other risky behaviors — say, getting into a car with a stranger. “When it came to self-injury, there was a lack of literature on this relationship,” Evans explained. “I was interested in how individuals see risky behavior as more beneficial than risky if they have participated in NSSI.”

Evans and Dr. Andover separated the behaviors they took into consideration into several categories: risky behaviors, risky behaviors with no self-injury included, self-injurious behaviors, drug behaviors, sexual behaviors, physical behaviors, and eating-related behaviors. After completing a regression analysis of their data, they found that as frequency increased, there was also an increase in the benefits that people saw in self-injurious and physical behaviors. Evans explained that she had expected to observe this connection from self-harm frequency to the evaluation of self-injurious behaviors in the risk-benefit analysis. However, a new revelation came about in the form of a link between how respondents rated the benefits of risky physical behaviors: A person who self-harms is more likely to see greater benefit than risk in dangerous physical behaviors, such as participating in a high-contact sport.

Evans says the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the way she was able to conduct her research over the summer. She could not spend the summer working in the lab in person and had to communicate with Dr. Andover via phone call, email, and Zoom. She says the pandemic also prevented her from adding more participants to her research. Instead, Evans used previously collected data from the Mood and Behavior Lab, which still left her with hundreds of individual responses to analyze. She said that, ideally, she would have liked to add new participants to her research to guarantee more diversity in the respondents she studied. “More diversity is always going to be better when talking about psychological issues like this,” Evans explained.

Evans plans to present her research at the convention for the Association for Behavioral Cognitive Therapies in November. Evans hopes to continue her research in psychological disorders and treatments as well as pursuing a doctorate in clinical psychology after completing her time at Fordham.

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