Impact of socio-emotional context, brain development, and pubertal maturation on adolescent risk-taking

Horm Behav. 2013 Jul;64(2):323-32. doi: 10.1016/j.yhbeh.2013.03.006.


While there is little doubt that risk-taking is generally more prevalent during adolescence than before or after, the underlying causes of this pattern of age differences have long been investigated and debated. One longstanding popular notion is the belief that risky and reckless behavior in adolescence is tied to the hormonal changes of puberty. However, the interactions between pubertal maturation and adolescent decision making remain largely understudied. In the current review, we discuss changes in decision making during adolescence, focusing on the asynchronous development of the affective, reward-focused processing system and the deliberative, reasoned processing system. As discussed, differential maturation in the structure and function of brain systems associated with these systems leaves adolescents particularly vulnerable to socio-emotional influences and risk-taking behaviors. We argue that this asynchrony may be partially linked to pubertal influences on development and specifically on the maturation of the affective, reward-focused processing system.

Keywords: Adolescence; Brain development; Decision making; Puberty; Reward processing; Self-regulation.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior / physiology
  • Adolescent Development / physiology
  • Brain / growth & development*
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Puberty / physiology*
  • Puberty / psychology
  • Risk-Taking*
  • Sexual Maturation / physiology*
  • Social Environment*