Research efforts to account for elevated risk behavior among adolescents have arrived at an exciting new stage. Moving beyond laboratory studies of age differences in risk perception and reasoning, new approaches have shifted their focus to the influence of social and emotional factors on adolescent decision making. We review recent research suggesting that adolescent risk-taking propensity derives in part from a maturational gap between early adolescent remodeling of the brain’s socio-emotional reward system and a gradual, prolonged strengthening of the cognitive-control system. Research has suggested that in adolescence, a time when individuals spend an increasing amount of time with their peers, peer-related stimuli may sensitize the reward system to respond to the reward value of risky behavior. As the cognitive-control system gradually matures over the course of the teenage years, adolescents grow in their capacity to coordinate affect and cognition and to exercise self-regulation, even in emotionally arousing situations. These capacities are reflected in gradual growth in the capacity to resist peer influence.
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