Age differences in sensation seeking and impulsivity as indexed by behavior and self-report: evidence for a dual systems model

Dev Psychol. 2008 Nov;44(6):1764-78. doi: 10.1037/a0012955.


It has been hypothesized that sensation seeking and impulsivity, which are often conflated, in fact develop along different timetables and have different neural underpinnings, and that the difference in their timetables helps account for heightened risk taking during adolescence. In order to test these propositions, the authors examined age differences in sensation seeking and impulsivity in a socioeconomically and ethnically diverse sample of 935 individuals between the ages of 10 and 30, using self-report and behavioral measures of each construct. Consistent with the authors' predictions, age differences in sensation seeking, which are linked to pubertal maturation, follow a curvilinear pattern, with sensation seeking increasing between 10 and 15 and declining or remaining stable thereafter. In contrast, age differences in impulsivity, which are unrelated to puberty, follow a linear pattern, with impulsivity declining steadily from age 10 on. Heightened vulnerability to risk taking in middle adolescence may be due to the combination of relatively higher inclinations to seek excitement and relatively immature capacities for self-control that are typical of this period of development.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Child
  • Decision Making
  • Exploratory Behavior*
  • Female
  • Games, Experimental
  • Humans
  • Impulsive Behavior / diagnosis
  • Impulsive Behavior / psychology*
  • Individuality
  • Inhibition, Psychological
  • Male
  • Personality Development*
  • Puberty / psychology
  • Reaction Time
  • Risk-Taking*
  • Self Disclosure*
  • Young Adult