Sensation-Seeking and Impulsivity (Psychosocial Development)
These findings speak particularly to the issue of immaturity and culpability, and are important to consider when mitigating illegal behavior in adolescents. In general, youth are more likely than adults to display less impulse control and more sensation-seeking behaviors. It appears that these characteristics are a normal part of adolescent development.
- To explore age differences in sensation-seeking (tendency to seek stimulating and novel experiences) and impulsivity (lack of self-control).
- Researchers predicted that sensation-seeking and impulsivity: (1) Occur along different timetables and (2) Are connected to the increased vulnerability to risk-taking found in adolescence
- An experimental study conducted in a laboratory setting with a sample of 935 individuals, ages ten to 30 years. Participants were recruited from the community in several cities across the United States.
- Used both self-report questionnaires and behavioral tasks to assess sensation-seeking and impulsivity.
- Age differences were found for both impulsivity and sensation-seeking, but they developed along different timetables.
- Sensation-seeking behaviors increased between the ages of 12 to 15 (initiating around the beginning of puberty), and then steadily declined.
- Impulsivity was found to steadily decline from age 10 through adolescence and well into early adulthood. Adolescents younger than 16 demonstrated significantly less impulse control than 16- to 17-year-olds, and 16- to 17-year-olds demonstrated significantly less impulse control than 22- to 25-year-olds.
- After age 15, adolescent vulnerability to risky behavior steadily decreases as sensation-seeking decreases, and impulse control continues to increase into early adulthood.
- Evidence from this study is consistent with adolescent brain research that demonstrates that the brain systems (cognitive control system) linked to impulse control and self-regulation does not fully develop until early adulthood. In contrast, the brain systems (socio-emotional system) linked with sensation-seeking becomes more highly aroused in early adolescence.
- To examine the development differences in the appraisal of risk and to see how this difference related to involvement in the court system. The authors call the tendency to perceive more rewards than risk when facing risky situations, “reward bias.” They hypothesize that compared to adults; adolescents have more reward bias and higher reward bias is associated with higher engagement in illegal activity.
- To measure risk perception, subjects were asked to imagine themselves engaging in identified risky behavior (e.g., having unprotected sex, stealing from a store, or fighting) and rate the likelihood of a negative outcome, how serious the negative consequence could be, and how potential costs compare to potential benefits.
- Study One
- Community-based sample consisting of 935 subjects age 10-30, ethnically diverse, males and females, working or middle class, with no involvement in the legal system
- Study Two
- Sample of over 1,400 community and pre-adjudication court-involved youths and adults.
- Data was analyzed using five participants in each group: 12-13 years old (early adolescence), 14-15 years old (middle adolescence), 16-17 years old (later adolescence), 18-21 years old (late adolescence) and those 22-24 years old (young adults).
- Study One
- Age was related to reward bias such that reward bias increased during adolescence (peaking for 16-17 years old) then decreased with age.
- Males are more likely to demonstrate a reward bias.
- Study Two
- In the sample involved in the justice system, reward bias decreased with age and was highest in the 12-13 year old group.
- The decrease in reward bias was true even for those who pled guilty or were found guilty of a crime in the past.
To examine if adolescents respond more impulsively than adults or children when confronted with a frightening or threatening stimuli relative to one that is neutral. This study considered behavioral and FMRI data.
- 57 subjects between the ages of 6-27 years old. Children were ages 6-12, adolescents 13-17 and adults 18 and older.
- Subjects were shown calm and fighting faces. They were told to press the button when they saw a calm face and not to press it if they saw a frightening face. Subjects were instructed to respond as quickly as they could and they only saw the face for 500 ms, so they didn’t have a lot of time to think about it. The subjects were in an FMRI while they did the task.
- The experimenters were interested in the condition that required subjects to suppress a response; that is, not respond, when they saw a frightening face, a potential threat. Subjects made a false alarm or error if they responded to the threat.
- Compared to adults or children, adolescents were more likely to respond incorrectly or impulsively respond to the fearful stimuli.
- Compared to females, males were more likely to make false alarms.
- Compared to children or adults, when doing the task, the limbic region of the adolescent brain was more active.
- Adolescents, compared to children or adults, are more likely to act impulsively when they are faced with threatening stimuli. (Other research has shown they are also more likely to act impulsively when faced with positive stimuli.) The take home is that as a normal developmental process, adolescents are more impulsive.
- Just as adolescents responds differently, their brains functions differently than the brains of adults or children.