Risky behavior

"What on earth did you think when you raced through the residential area on your scooter at seventy kilometers per hour? Why do you do something like that, don't you think at all?"

Adolescents use the same cognitive strategies as adults and solve problems in the same way. They also know that they are taking risks and, like adults, they tend to overestimate risks rather than underestimate them. But adolescents take more risks because they enjoy the reward more. For adolescents, the reward, and certainly social reward, of peers is more important than for adults. Friends play a crucial role in this. Adolescents take much more risk in the presence of friends. In adults, the mere thought of a dangerous situation activates certain areas of the brain (the insula and the amygdala) that would also be active if they actually experienced the situation. The amygdala activates the brain areas that put the body in a state of preparedness and the insula causes a strong disgust response. An adult gets sick just thinking about it.

Adolescents, on the other hand, show no activity in these brain areas. Apparently they don't feel this disgust reaction. However, they do show more activity in the frontal cortex, the area of ​​the brain that is important for weighing alternatives. So it's not like adolescents don't think about potentially disastrous scenarios. They do. However, this does not lead to better insights. While adults in a dangerous situation may rely on the system of somatic markers, which indicates through a feeling whether a situation is dangerous or not, adolescents are primarily focused on the possible positive outcomes. Adults rely on their intuition when they need to make quick decisions. This way they can rule out many undesirable alternatives and make a better assessment with a limited number of scenarios in mind.

Risky behavior is characteristic of adolescence. Many adolescents do things that adults would never do, or at least never do again. This sometimes leads to situations that are difficult to predict for parents and teachers.