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Teenagers programmed to take risks

Wednesday 12th May 2010

In research published in the journal Cognitive Development, scientists found that teenagers take the most risks compared with the other groups, with the most risky behaviour seen in 14-year-olds.

The results suggest that teenagers are good at weighing up the pros and cons of their decisions (unlike children) but take risks because they enjoy the thrill of a risky situation more than other age groups - especially when they have a ‘lucky escape’.

Dr Stephanie Burnett from the UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, and the lead author, said: “The reason that teenagers take risks is not a problem with foreseeing the consequences. It was more because they chose to take those risks.

“This is the first evidence from a lab-based study that adolescents are risk-takers. We are one step forward in determining why teenagers engage in extremely risky behaviours.”

The study involved 86 boys and men who were asked to play computer games, during which they made decisions in order to win points. After each game scientists measured the participants’ emotional response by recording how satisfied or dissatisfied they were with the outcome.

They found that the onset of the teenage years marked an increase in how much enjoyment resulted from winning in a ‘lucky escape’ situation. This could help explain why teenagers are more likely to take bigger risks.

Dr Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, also from the UCL Institute for Cognitive Neuroscience, said: “Understanding why adolescents take such risks is important for public health interventions and for families.”

Click here to read the full media release about the study.

 

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