Study finds most teens avoid rash, impulsive behavior

Only a subset of teens who engage in excessive levels of impulsive behavior, such as acting without thinking, later struggle with addictions or other problem behaviors, a new study has found.

The study, published last month in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence, found that children who struggle with weak cognitive control at a young age are most at risk for trouble in adulthood following their engagement in risk-taking activities in adolescence.


The study, by researchers at the University of Oregon, the Annenberg Public Policy Center (APPC), and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, challenges the traditional “imbalance models,” which theorize that adolescence is a universal time of brain imbalance. Those models propose that teenagers lack impulse control because of delayed brain development, and without that cognitive development are driven to take risks to get instant rewards.

“This paper is a validation of our critique of the imbalance models,” said co-author and APPC research director Dan Romer. “It shows that only a subset of young people are at risk for problems associated with poor impulse control.”

The study supports an alternative model proposed by Romer and the other researchers called the Lifespan Wisdom Model. Their model says that much of what is considered teen risk-taking is instead a normal part of development, in which teens are driven to gain the experience required to assume adult roles and behaviors. Their model differentiates between “adaptive/exploratory risk taking” and “maladaptive forms of risk-taking,” the latter of which are characterized by poor impulse control.

Read more at the Annenberg Public Policy Center.