A Social Neuroscience Perspective on Adolescent Risk-Taking
Laurence Steinberg; 2008
This article proposes a framework for theory and research on risk-taking that is informed by developmental neuroscience. Two fundamental questions motivate this review. First, why does risk-taking increase between childhood and adolescence? Second, why does risk-taking decline between adolescence and adulthood? Risk-taking increases between childhood and adolescence as a result of changes around the time of puberty in the brain’s socio-emotional system leading to increased reward-seeking, especially in the presence of peers, fueled mainly by a dramatic remodeling of the brain’s dopaminergic system. Risk-taking declines between adolescence and adulthood because of changes in the brain’s cognitive control system – changes which improve individuals’ capacity for self-regulation. These changes occur across adolescence and young adulthood and are seen in structural and functional changes within the prefrontal cortex and its connections to other brain regions. The differing timetables of these changes make mid-adolescence a time of heightened vulnerability to risky and reckless behavior.