Does adolescent risk taking imply weak executive function? A prospective study of relations between working memory performance, impulsivity, and risk taking in early adolescence

Annenberg Public Policy Center, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 19104-3806, USA.
Developmental Science (Impact Factor: 3.89). 09/2011; 14(5):1119-33. DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-7687.2011.01061.x
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT Studies of brain development suggest that the increase in risk taking observed during adolescence may be due to insufficient prefrontal executive function compared to a more rapidly developing subcortical motivation system. We examined executive function as assessed by working memory ability in a community sample of youth (n = 387, ages 10 to 12 at baseline) in three annual assessments to determine its relation to two forms of impulsivity (sensation seeking and acting without thinking) and a wide range of risk and externalizing behavior. Using structural equation modeling, we tested a model in which differential activation of the dorsal and ventral striatum produces imbalance in the function of these brain regions. For youth high in sensation seeking, both regions were predicted to develop with age. However, for youth high in the tendency to act without thinking, the ventral striatum was expected to dominate. The model predicted that working memory ability would exhibit (1) early weakness in youth high in acting without thinking but (2) growing strength in those high in sensation seeking. In addition, it predicted that (3) acting without thinking would be more strongly related to risk and externalizing behavior than sensation seeking. Finally, it predicted that (4) controlling for acting without thinking, sensation seeking would predict later increases in risky and externalizing behavior. All four of these predictions were confirmed. The results indicate that the rise in sensation seeking that occurs during adolescence is not accompanied by a deficit in executive function and therefore requires different intervention strategies from those for youth whose impulsivity is characterized by early signs of acting without thinking.

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Available from: Laura Betancourt, Jul 30, 2015
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    • "Teenage is a significant period of brain development and behavioural maturation during which the corresponding changes in neuroplasticity places the adolescent brain at a particular risk to environmental factors such as drug exposure; using cannabis in this period increases the future risk of using other illicit drugs later in life, a phenomenon known as the gateway hypothesis [22]. However, it is also worth noting that a general increase in exploratory and social behaviours is also characteristic of this ontogenetic period [26] [27] [29], and not all individuals will be lead to abuse or to the intake of other addictive substances. And, although there are other factors that might lead to early cannabis use, such as cultural or familiar background, it is suggested that there is a genetical vulnerability [2] [22] [1] [9] with reward-system based personality traits being their most powerful predictors [20] [24] [8] [17] [5] [13]. "
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    ABSTRACT: Previous studies analysing personality and cannabis use in adult samples suggest that cannabis users show significant higher levels of impulsivity, sensation seeking and schizotypy. However, there are few studies exploring this relationship in adolescence using psychobiological models of personality. Given the relevance of identifying individual differences that lead adolescents to early cannabis use to prevent future health problems, the present study aimed to explore the relationship between age, sex, personality and early cannabis use using a psychobiological model of personality in a sample of 415 students (51.8% boys) from 12 to 18 years. Chi(2) tests showed significant higher prevalence of cannabis use in boys and in the group aged 15-18 years. Multiple analysis of variance showed significant higher scores in psychoticism, sensation seeking and in all its subscales in cannabis users group, while an interaction with age was found for extraversion and neuroticism: cannabis users scored higher than non-users in the youngest group (12-14 years) but lower in the oldest group in both dimensions. Finally, regression analysis showed that narrower traits of sensation seeking (experience seeking and disinhibition) were the most associated to early cannabis use. Results are discussed in terms of early cannabis users' personality profiles and in terms of the self-medication theory. Copyright © 2015. Published by Elsevier Masson SAS.
    European Psychiatry 03/2015; 30(4). DOI:10.1016/j.eurpsy.2015.02.008 · 3.44 Impact Factor
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    • "Estos hallazgos presentados en la literatura científica pueden parecer contra-intuitivos con el cliché generalizado de que los adolescentes " no miden el riesgo porque su corteza frontal es inmadura " . Los hallazgos concretos sobre la capacidad de detección del riesgo indican que esta competencia se encuentra de forma muy temprana, pero que en la adolescencia la valencia motivacional de la recompensa es muy alta (por una mayor actividad del cuerpo estriado y del sistema dopaminérgico de recompensa), lo que hace que los adolescentes presenten conductas de riesgo aún cuando son suficientemente sensibles al mismo (Romer et al., 2011). Diversos investigadores han destacado que la conducta de riesgo en la adolescencia es un fenómeno complejo que no puede reducirse solamente a la capacidad de detecciones de selecciones de riesgo y menos al neurodesarrollo de una región específica del cerebro. "
    Anales de Psicologia 05/2014; 30(2):463-473. DOI:10.6018/analesps.30.2.155471 · 0.55 Impact Factor
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    • "Both tendencies are stronger in males [41] and have been the focus of commentaries on the role of brain development in adolescent risky driving [11] [12] However, unlike sensation seeking, impulsivity is characterized by a deficit in attention skills [41], an extreme form of which is apparent in ADHD, which presents with both impulsive and attentional problems [42]. When the effects of sensation seeking are separated from impulsivity, impulsivity appears to be the more serious predictor of risky behavior [43] [44]. Nevertheless, both impulsivity and sensation seeking may place adolescents with weak situational awareness in harm's way while driving [45]. "
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    ABSTRACT: Motor vehicle crashes are the leading source of morbidity and mortality in adolescents in the United States and the developed world. Inadequate allocation of attention to the driving task and to driving hazards are important sources of adolescent crashes. We review major explanations for these attention failures with particular focus on the roles that brain immaturity and lack of driving experience play in causing attention problems. The review suggests that the potential for overcoming inexperience and immaturity with training to improve attention to both the driving task and hazards is substantial. Nevertheless, there are large individual differences in both attentional abilities and risky driving tendencies that pose challenges to novice driver policies. Research that can provide evidence-based direction for such policies is urgently needed.
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