Teens are more likely to take risks and act daring than children younger than them or adults, because most of the time, they are more accepting of consequences that are unknown, not because they are actually drawn toward risky situations, according to findings by Yale School of Medicine researchers published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

A 2011 study said that researchers from the University of Pittsburg discovered, through tests on rats, new insight into neuron activity in adolescents’ brains which helped explain why teens consider rewards over consequences.

According to the report, adolescents commit crimes and contract sexually transmitted diseases more than any other age groups – they also drive faster than adults. Death and injury rates among teens is 200% higher than younger children, according to the study.

For the new study, the experts analyzed a group of teens as well as a group of middle aged adults by asking them to make decisions involving unknown and known risks.

The 65 participants involved in the study were aged between 12 and 50 years old. The researchers asked the volunteers to make decisions involving money and the lottery. The extent of risk was different for each question. During some of the experiments, the people were told the precise probabilities of being able to win the lottery. In others, they were not told the chances, therefore making the risk level uncertain and high.

Researchers discovered that when the teens were told about the exact risks of the decisions they were making, they tried to avoid them equally as much as the adults did, or even more. On the other hand, the adolescents were much more comfortable with uncertain situations and unknown risks than adults.

Ifat Levy, assistant professor in comparative medicine and neurobiology at Yale, said:

“Young organisms need to be open to the unknown in order to gain information about their world. From a policy perspective it means that informing adolescents as much as possible about the likelihoods for the costs and benefits of risky behaviors may effectively reduce their engagement in such behaviors.”

She continued to say that teens do not make these decisions because they are not as intelligent as adults – they are equally as smart as adults.

Levy concluded:

“Behavioral economics tells us that risk-taking is not a simple process. It is affected by our attitudes toward known risks, but also by our attitudes toward unknown or ambiguous situations, in which the likelihood for positive and negative outcomes are not known.”

Written by Christine Kearney