A dual systems model of adolescent risk-taking (2010)

Dev Psychobiol. 2010 Apr;52(3):216-24. doi: 10.1002/dev.20445.\


Steinberg L.

  • Department of Psychology, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA 19122, USA. [email protected]


It has been hypothesized that reward-seeking and impulsivity 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, age differences in reward-seeking and impulsivity were examined 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 predictions, age differences in reward-seeking follow a curvilinear pattern, increasing between preadolescence and mid-adolescence, and declining thereafter. In contrast, age differences in impulsivity 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 rewards and still maturing capacities for self-control.