For teens, risky behaviors feel great and are experienced as more rewarding than how adults process risk. However, the part of the brain that handles impulse control hasn’t developed quickly enough for teens in order to keep the risky part in check.
Sensation seeking is situated in two brain areas: the ventral striatum and the orbitofrontal cortex, both of which process incentives. Impulse control is situated in the lateral prefrontal cortex. Although both are involved in risk-taking, they aren’t the same.
Although both areas of the brain change from childhood to adulthood, they don’t change at the same speed.
- The incentive processing centers become sensitized right after puberty, making adolescents take much more pleasure out of rewards. This leads them to experience risk as relatively more pleasurable.
- The impulse control centers of the brain develop more slowly over time, and are still developing in early adulthood. This is the part of the brain that keeps you from doing risky things before you think through the consequences.