Risk-taking Teens: No Simple Explanations

VANCOUVER, British Columbia, May 6 (UPI) — U.S. researchers contradict the assumption that weak executive brain function causes teen risk-taking.

Study leaders Daniel Romer of the Annenberg Public Policy Center and Dr. Hallam Hurt of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia found working memory — an area of the brain that does not mature until the third decade — was not, as previously thought, linked to risky behaviors in teens.

The researchers said those with stronger working memory ability exhibited more sensation-seeking behavior, while those with poor working memory scored higher on measures of acting without thinking.

“Our findings clearly suggest that explanations for why adolescents take risks are not simple,” Romer said in a statement. “Many adolescents have the capacity to control their risk-taking, and we will need to find ways for them to channel sensation-seeking drives toward safer activities.”

Romer, Hurt and colleagues tracked risk-taking behaviors — such as fighting, gambling and alcohol — along with the development of executive cognitive functions in 387 Philadelphia-area youths of mixed race, ethnicity and socioeconomic status over four years starting at age 10-12.

The findings were presented in Vancouver at the annual meeting of the Pediatric Academic Societies.

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