Teen Risk-Taking Behavior: Seeking the Adrenaline Rush

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Teen risk-taking seems more extreme in the 21st century than it ever was before. With the rise of YouTube and Smartphones, crazy acts performed by teens are mainstream.

Stimulus seeking teens go to great lengths to fill their hunger for adrenaline and risk-taking behaviors. This includes many activities such as parkour, pranks, and other risky behavior. It’s important to be aware of these behaviors as teens can get injured or worse.

Parkour Provides Insight on Teen Risk-Taking Behaviors

Parkour videos show teens acrobatically running through urban jungles. These are among the most popular videos on YouTube. Parkour is a discipline using movement that developed from military obstacle course training. Practitioners aim to get from one point to another in a complex and dangerous environment in the fastest way possible.

Teens love parkour, but this dangerous risk-taking phenomenon has led to countless injuries and deaths. Why do teens take such chances?  The common stereotype for teens is generally that of wild risk takers. Furthermore, some teens actively seek out dangerous situations to place themselves in harm’s way. In addition, many believe this behavior is a result of “raging hormones” combined with a lack of wisdom or life experience.

Nevertheless, this age-old stereotype may be incorrect, according to new research out of New York University (NYU). The study found that adolescents have a greater desire for risk-taking behavior due to an increased tolerance for ambiguity. Although teens are willing to take risks, they also want to be able to prepare. Hence, they gain as much information possible about the risk being taken. After all, many teens engage in extreme parkour, but only a small percentage are hurt.

Researchers Used Gambling Scenarios to Gauge Teens’ Risk Level

First, the NYU research team used teens ranging in age from 12 to 17 and adults 30 to 50 years of age. Each group chooses between taking a guaranteed $5 or gambled for a chance to win either $50 or nothing. The researchers clarified the precise odds of winning and losing. Despite the belief that teens want to take risks, they were less likely to try for the larger sum of money. In other words, teens are willing to take the money and run.

With this info, the researchers made both the adults and the teens unaware of their odds. The goal is to see if they would behave differently. All the subjects are told there is a bag of 100 red and blue chips. Then they are told that 25 chips are red and 25 chips are blue. They learn nothing about the remaining 50 chips. The adults either became extremely pessimistic or overly optimistic about their odds.

In contrast, the teens act indifferently. They simply want the thrill and did not really care about the outcome. After all, both winning and losing provide an equal rush of pure adrenaline. In other words, teens care about the experience or rush more than the result. Ambiguity is not a problem as long as they keep playing.

Ambiguity Did Not Dissuade Teen Risk-Taking Like It Did the Adults

Scientists hypothesize that an increased tolerance for ambiguity in younger people allows for more learning opportunities. Therefore, these results imply that educational programs need to provide specific information on potential risks. Specific information is the key. With such information, teens act in a less careless manner. They are open to growth.

Does it surprise you that teens are more conservative with their decisions when they have all the information? Perhaps this information can help teens.  Such strategies can prevent the perpetuation of destructive behaviors. By providing educational opportunities and greater awareness, teen risk-taking can be mitigated.

Image courtesy of Scott Osborne for Unsplash.