Look behind our labels

Personality profiling: New project saves binge-drinkers, truants, drug-users and criminals

Personality profiling is being used on pupils in London so schools can spot those at risk of dangerous behaviour such as binge-drinking and drug use and stop them before they start.

The project has been tested in 25 schools and a handful of pupil referral units which invited all their 14 and 15-year-old pupils to fill in questionnaires.

The pupils' answers were then analysed for signs of four personality types: Anxiety Sensitive; Sensation Seeking; Impulsive and Negative Thinking (see picture).

If their parents gave consent, the pupils were then invited to attend workshops organised for each of the four groups. There they discussed real-life situations and were taught methods to stop their character traits developing into a problem.

The first results have now been published from the Preventure project, which has been run by researchers from King's College's institute of psychiatry for two years and will continue for at least another two.

It is too early to see the effects on drug use and unprotected sex, which are less common and tend to occur more when the teenagers are older.

But the findings suggest the scheme is already helping young people to avoid or reduce other criminal behaviour. The first 423 teenagers to be studied either attended a workshop or were put in a control group.

Binge-drinking in the Sensation Seeking group, who had been prone to alcohol use, halved in the year afterwards. Shoplifting had also reduced a year on for those in the intervention groups, most strikingly among the Impulsive pupils.

The proportion of them who admitted shoplifting dropped from 45 to 26 per cent. By contrast, it increased from 45 to 53 per cent among the Impulsive pupils in the control group, who received no extra help. The researchers also found that the project helped to reduce truancy among the Anxiety Sensitive and panic attacks among the Negative Thinkers.

Patricia Conrod, a clinical psychologist at the National Addiction Centre in King's College, brought the scheme over from Canada.

She said: "This is not about labelling young people or suggesting that they are going down predetermined paths. The majority of those in the groups are not going to go on and cause a problem. However, the programme did prove to have a much-needed effect on binge-drinking and other behaviour.

"The programme also helped improve the pupils' general satisfaction with life."

Liberty, the civil liberties campaign group, said it was glad the Preventure programme was voluntary and that parents were informed. But it said it hoped that similar schemes would not result in pupils being unfairly labelled in the future.

The next phase of the Preventure project, which is funded by the charity Action on Addiction, will involve teachers leading the intervention sessions. Schools interested in participating can email Laura.Sully@iop.kcl.ac.uk

Education and Health journal, Volume 24 Number 3.

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