In research published today in the journal Cognitive Development, children, adolescents and adults aged 9-35 years chose between risky and safe options in a computer gambling game. Scientists found that the teenagers took the most risks compared with the other groups, with the most risky behavior seen in 14-year olds.
The results suggest that teenagers are good at weighing up the pros and cons of their decisions (unlike children) but take risks because they enjoy the thrill of a risky situation more than other age groups - especially when they have a 'lucky escape'.
"The reason that teenagers take risks is not a problem with foreseeing the consequences. It was more because they chose to take those risks," said Dr Stephanie Burnett from the UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, and the lead author.
"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 behaviors such as drug use and unsafe sex," she added.