Teenagers programmed to take risk
Teenagers are more likely than other age groups to indulge in binge drinking, taking drugs and unsafe sex because they are programmed to take risks, British scientists claim.india Updated: Mar 26, 2010 12:40 IST
Teenagers are more likely than other age groups to indulge in binge drinking, taking drugs and unsafe sex because they are programmed to take risks, British scientists claim.
The University College London (UCL) study found teenagers enjoy the thrill of dangerous situations more than others -- with 14 year-olds the biggest culprits.
"The onset of adolescence marks an explosion in 'risky' activities -- from dangerous driving, unsafe sex and experimentation with alcohol, to poor dietary habits and physical inactivity," said Dr Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, a neuroscientist University College London (UCL) and the co-author of the study.
"This contributes to the so-called 'health paradox' of adolescence, whereby a peak in lifetime physical health is paradoxically accompanied by high mortality and morbidity."
She added that understanding why adolescents take such risks is very important and their study would help provide proper health interventions for them.
For the study, the researchers asked 86 participants, aged nine to 35, to play computer games during which they made decisions in order to win points.
After each game scientists measured their emotional response by recording how satisfied or dissatisfied they were with the outcome.
They found the onset of the teenage years marked an increase in how much enjoyment resulted from winning in a "lucky escape" situation, the Telegraph reported.
Dr Stephanie Burnett, a neuroscientist at University College London (UCL), said: "The reason teenagers take risks is not a problem with foreseeing the consequences. It was more because they chose to take those risks.
"This is the first evidence from a lab-based study that adolescents are risk-takers. We are one step forward in determining why teenagers engage in extremely risky behaviours such as drug use and unsafe sex."
According to Dr Burnett, in adolescence our brains are still developing -- particularly the dopamine system which helps us feel pleasure and reward.
"Teenagers love screaming themselves hoarse on thrill rides at theme parks and this is a first step towards understanding why," said Dr Burnett.
"It could be that we need to look at educating youngsters in a slightly different way about the dangers of drinking, taking drugs and indulging in other harmful activities.
"Telling them something is risky has always had the capacity to backfire by encouraging them to do something they shouldn't. And now we know why."
Males are regarded as the more risk-taking sex but the researchers, whose latest work was published in the journal Cognitive Development, now plan to carry out a similar study in females to see if the results are the same.