Home' Capricornus Quarterly : December 2012 Contents 1010
Schoolies, perhaps better than any
other time, reminds us that otherwise
“good kids”, anywhere, can make
poor decisions when they’re with
their friends, especially when there
is partying and drinking going on.
It seems to be innate.
One recent study suggests that
14-18 year olds are in fact hard-
wired to take more risks and
bigger risks especially when they’re
under the influence of friends.
It may explain why young teenagers are
more likely to act up and t ake risks when
their friends are watching according
to Dr Laurence Steinberg of Temple
University (Philadelphia, USA), who
conducted the research by studying
teens playing a video driving game.
Magnetic resonance imaging scans
taken of the brains of the teens
showed that there was a dif ference
in brain activity involving risk and
reward when adolescent s were alone
versus when they with their friends.
As reported by The New York Times,
Steinberg’s research demonstrated that
young teens drove through almost twice
as many yellow light s and had more
than twice as many crashes compared
to adults or college students when
the teens knew (or believed) their
friends were watching – either within
their view or in the room next door.
“The presence of peers activated the
reward circuitry in the brain of the
adolescent that it didn’t do in the case
of the adult,” Steinberg told the Times.
In other research published by the
National Institutes of Health, Steinberg
shows that risk-taking increases between
childhood and adolescence as a result
of biological changes around the
time of puberty in what he refers to
as the brain’s socio-emotional system.
“Mid -adolescence [peeking at 15]
is a time of heightened vulnerability
to risky and reckless behaviour,”
Steinberg says, adding that it eases
off by the time the child reaches his
or her mid 20s when more cognitive
functions of the brain take over.
Because risk-taking during adolescence
– especially in the context of event s such
as Schoolies or house parties – is likely
to be biologically driven, Steinberg
says, to some extent, it’s inevitable.
Similarly, research released in October
indicates t hat adolescents do not
necessarily choose to engage in risks,
but rather, they are willing to take more
risks when they don’t fully underst and
what potential outcomes might be.
Scient ists from New York University,
Yale and Fordham University found
that adolescent s commonly take more
risks than younger children and
adults because they are more willing
to accept risks when consequences
are unknown, rather than because
they are attracted to danger.
“ W hen risks were precisely stated,
adolescent s avoided them at least
as much – and sometimes more
– than adults,” explains Ifat Levy,
assistant professor in comparative
medicine and neurobiology at Yale.
“Once they truly understand a risky
situation, they are, if anything, even
more risk averse than adults,” Lev y
says, admitting like Steinberg to a
biological link to adolescent behav iour.
“ Young organisms need to be open
to the unknown in order to gain
information about their world,” she says.
The same can be said about parents,
who were also teens once, according
to Australia’s Dr Simon Crisp.
Speaking with CQ Dr Crisp said whilst
t here are common experiences across
t he generations, parents need to update
t hose experiences and ask ‘how would
I be dealing with this current climate
compared to when I was a teenager?’
“Risk-taking is natural and normal
for young people. We [adults] can’t
control it or be fearful,” the Melbourne-
based Clinical Psychologist explains.
But we do have a responsibility, says
Dr Crisp, to provide opportunities for
young people to learn over time.
“It’s not necessarily about stopping
Every step you take
Dr B Bradford Brown at the University of Wisconsin-Madison says there are distinct
psychosocial tasks, which influence risk-taking, adolescents must accomplish.
1. To stand out—to develop an identity and pursue autonomy,
2. To fit in—to find comfortable affiliations and gain acceptance from peers,
3. To measure up—to develop competence and find ways to achieve, and
4. To take hold—to make commitments to particular goals, activities, and beliefs.
From the Science of Adolescent Risk-taking Workshop Report, Committee on the science of adolescence; Board on children, youth, and
families institute of medicine and national research council of the national academies; The National Academies Press; Washington DC.
w w w.Nap.Edu/ope nbook.Php?Record_id=12961&page=r1
[There’s] a difference in brain activity involving
risk and reward when adolescents were alone
versus when they were with their friends.
Research confirms adolescents’ vulnerability to risks
and recklessness comes naturally, writes Mike Donahue
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