Excitement: That’s what drives a teen

February 10th, 2009 - 12:36 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Feb 10 (IANS) Teenagers are perceived as short-sighted, prone to poor judgement and impulsive in decision-making over drugs and sex. A new study of teenagers 16 years and younger attributes it less to impulsiveness and more with the desire to do something exciting.

The researchers looked at more than 900 people between the ages of 10 to 30 and from an ethnically and socio-economically diverse group to determine how people of different ages think about the future consequences of their decisions.

They used a new questionnaire and an experimental task called delay discounting, which measures the extent to which people prefer immediate but smaller rewards over delayed but larger ones.

Compared with adults, teenagers consider the future less and prefer immediate rewards over delayed ones (for example, $700 today versus $1,000 a year from now). But it may not be impulsiveness that guides their lack of forethought.

The study was jointly conducted by scientists at Temple, California-Los Angeles and Irvine, Georgetown and Colorado universities.

It found that teens are short-sighted more due to immaturity in the brain systems that govern sensation seeking than to immaturity in the brain systems responsible for self-control, said a Temple release. The findings were published in the latest issue of Child Development.

Brain systems governing sensation seeking are very active between the ages of 10 and 16, while brain systems governing self-control continue to mature beyond age 16. In this study, the researchers saw few changes in teens’ concepts about the future after age 16.

“Those who wish to use research on adolescent decision-making to guide legal policies concerning teenagers’ rights and responsibilities need to be more specific about which particular capacities are being studied,” concluded Laurence Steinberg, professor of psychology, Temple University and co-author of the study.

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