Mechanisms underlying heightened risk taking in adolescents as compared with adults

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29 Scopus citations


Self-report surveys and behavioral tasks indicate greater risk-taking behavior in adolescents as compared with adults. However, the underlying causes of these behavioral differences remain unclear. The present study examined the possibility that adolescents may be more susceptible to immediate positive and negative outcomes than adults. We compared the behavior of adolescents and adults on a modified version of the Balloon Analogue Risk Task (Lejuez et al., 2002). The task required that participants press a button to "inflate" a series of balloons on a computer screen. Balloons inflated until either the participant released the button ("saved" balloons) or the balloon "burst." Accumulated points increased as the duration of the buttonpress increased; however, simultaneously, the likelihood that the balloon would burst also increased. Adolescents inflated balloons to a larger size prior to saving them than adults did, suggesting relatively higher levels of risk taking, although the adolescents' behavior was not uniformly risk prone. Further, in comparison with adults, behavior in adolescents was more influenced by whether a balloon was saved or had burst on the preceding trial, suggesting that sensitivity to immediate consequences is one mechanism that underlies the observed difference in risk taking.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)272-277
Number of pages6
JournalPsychonomic Bulletin and Review
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2008

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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