Study shows link between teen risk-taking and poor working memory

Posted: June 10, 2010 – A study presented last month at the Pediatric Academic Societies annual meeting in Vancouver discussed what causes teen risk-taking. The article states that the conventional understanding of teen deviance as an executive function problem may be too simplistic of an explanation and suggests two other possible reasons.

The first is that some children engage is risky behavior because they have a tendency to act without thinking. This tendency is often rooted in weak cognitive functions, especially in working memory.

Although this particular study suggests that all teens have a deficit in working memory that improves over time, teens who tend to act without thinking are more likely to have a more significant and prevalent working memory deficit. Daniel Romer, Ph.D. conducted the study and said “these are the kids we really worry about because they are on a long-term trajectory of probably experiencing substance use disorder and delinquency” Dr. Romer suggests that these children may benefit from interventions aimed at strengthening their working memory.

The second reason proposed is that teens make poor decisions based on a rise in sensation seeking which tends to naturally increase in all adolescents – but that does not lead to risk and externalizing behaviors as much as acting without thinking.

Dr. Romer said that the study showed “the rise in sensation seeking that occurs during adolescents is not accompanied by a deficit in executive function”.

Click here to read the full article.