To successfully negotiate the developmental transition between youth and adulthood, adolescents must maneuver this often stressful period while acquiring skills necessary for independence. Certain behavioral features, including age-related increases in social behavior and risk-taking/novelty-seeking, are common among adolescents of diverse mammalian species and may aid in this process. Reduced positive incentive values from stimuli may lead adolescents to pursue new appetitive reinforcers through drug use and other risk-taking behaviors, with their relative insensitivity to drugs supporting comparatively greater per occasion use. Pubertal increases in gonadal hormones are a hallmark of adolescence, although there is little evidence for a simple association of these hormones with behavioral change during adolescence. Prominent developmental transformations are seen in prefrontal cortex and limbic brain regions of adolescents across a variety of species, alterations that include an apparent shift in the balance between mesocortical and mesolimbic dopamine systems. Developmental changes in these stressor-sensitive regions, which are critical for attributing incentive salience to drugs and other stimuli, likely contribute to the unique characteristics of adolescence.