Adolescent engagement in dangerous behaviors is associated with increased white matter maturity of frontal cortex

PLoS One. 2009 Aug 26;4(8):e6773. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0006773.


Background: Myelination of white matter in the brain continues throughout adolescence and early adulthood. This cortical immaturity has been suggested as a potential cause of dangerous and impulsive behaviors in adolescence.

Methodology/principal findings: We tested this hypothesis in a group of healthy adolescents, age 12-18 (N = 91), who underwent diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) to delineate cortical white matter tracts. As a measure of real-world risk taking, participants completed the Adolescent Risk Questionnaire (ARQ) which measures engagement in dangerous activities. After adjusting for age-related changes in both DTI and ARQ, engagement in dangerous behaviors was found to be positively correlated with fractional anisotropy and negatively correlated with transverse diffusivity in frontal white matter tracts, indicative of increased myelination and/or density of fibers (ages 14-18, N = 60).

Conclusions/significance: The direction of correlation suggests that rather than having immature cortices, adolescents who engage in dangerous activities have frontal white matter tracts that are more adult in form than their more conservative peers.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior*
  • Child
  • Dangerous Behavior*
  • Frontal Lobe / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Risk Assessment
  • Surveys and Questionnaires