Adolescents, Adults, and Risk-Taking Behavior

Adolescents, Adults, and Risk-Taking Behavior

PSY 304 Lifespan Development

Adolescents, Adults, and Risk-Taking Behavior

When an individual takes part in dangerous activities that can potentially be harmful, they are engaging in risk-taking behavior. Many scholars suggest when it comes to risk-taking behavior, adolescents are more likely to engage in such activity than that of older adults (Lin, 2016). Developmental theories behind these findings include psychological, social, emotional, and cognitive reasoning.

There are various theories of human development that could describe the reasoning as to why adolescents are more prone to risk-taking behavior. One of these various theories is behavioral theory. The concept behind behavioral theories is that an individuals’ behavior is learned through their environment in a process known as conditioning (Cherry, 2018). Many adolescents are faced with peer pressure to engage in risk-taking behavior. When applying behavior theory, since an adolescents thinking is not mature enough to help make the right choices, it is more likely for an adolescent to engage in risk-taking behavior since they are learning the behavior is acceptable by other peers.

Physical and emotional changes in adolescents is one of the many contributing factors as to why they are more likely than adults to engage in risk-taking behavior. During adolescence, a teenage body goes through many physical changes in terms of body development (puberty). The physical changes that are taking place can directly cause an adolescent to omit a wide range of emotions such as depression, mania, lack of focus, confusion, and euphoria. When these emotions come into play, it can affect an adolescent’s decision-making process thus leading to many types of behaviors.

Some of the behaviors that adolescents exhibit during this time are good and some are bad. One behavior that has been known to be linked with increased levels of risk-taking behavior among adolescents is sleep deprivation. Numerous studies have shown that adolescents do not get the proper amount of sleep which is extremely important because it is reported that individuals require more sleep during adolescence than any other stage of development (O’Brien & Mindell, 2005). It is stated in the reading titled, Adolescent sleep, risk behaviors, and depressive symptoms: are they linked (2010), “there are many adverse consequences of inadequate sleep duration. Adolescents who sleep less are more likely to have academic problems. Short night sleep, particularly on school nights, has also been associated with increased levels of depressive mood, daytime sleepiness, and problematic sleep behavior. It has been suggested that depression may lead to short sleep durations and irregular sleep schedules and sleep loss may, in turn, cause depression, illustrating the complex nature of these relationships. Furthermore, there is some evidence to suggest that less sleep may be associated with increased alcohol use rates among youth” (Pasch, Laska, Lytle, & Moe, S., 2010, Pg. 2, Para. 3). Along with alcohol use, studies also show that the physical and mental effects of sleep deprivation in adolescents is linked with other risk-taking behaviors such as drug abuse, sexual deviances, eating disorders, and high-risk activities (O’Brien & Mindell, 2005).

Adolescents are classified to be in the identity vs role confusion stage of Erik Erikson’s psychosocial developmental theory, the erogenous zone of Sigmund Freud’s psychosexual theory, and the formal operational stage of Jean Piaget’s cognitive developmental theory. One developmental stage of development that relates to why adolescents are more prone to risk-taking behavior than adults is Erik Erikson’s psychosocial theory of development.

It is theorized by Erik Erikson that during the identity vs role confusion stage of development, adolescents are actively searching for a sense of self and personal identity (McLeod, 2018). Identity is believed to reflect a person’s best potential and is demonstrated through self-realizing activities that makes them feel self-defining and meaningful to their life goals (Ragelienė, 2016). Identity formation is created in this stage as well as the formation of social connections. When forming social connections, adolescents are faced with peer pressure and negative influences. Research shows that if adolescents are unable to resist peer pressure and negative influences they are more likely to engage in delinquent behaviors by trying to fit into what they think is a social norm (Ragelienė, 2016).

To conclude, when evaluating risk-taking behavior, it is known that both adolescents and adults are the most susceptible to engage. The actual answer as to why adolescents are more prone than adults to engage in risk-taking behavior is a phenomenon but with the help of developmental theories, research, and studies, there are a lot of logical explanations. Many think adolescents simply are not capable of evaluating risks and making the right choices but research has proven that adolescents are just as capable as adults when evaluating risky behavior (Mounts, 2015). Others believe that adolescents simply do not care about the consequences of risk taking behavior whereas adults must think about such consequences. As we have explored above, developmental theories carry the most substance when evaluating the reason as to why adolescents engage in more risk-taking behavior than adults.


Cherry, K. (2018). An overview of behavioral psychology. Behavioral Psychology. Retrieved from

Lin, P. (2016). Risky behaviors: Integrating adolescent egocentrism with the theory of planned behavior. Review of General Psychology, (4). 392. Retrieved from

McLeod, S. (2018). Erik Erikson’s Stages of Psychosocial Development. Developmental Psychology. Retrieved from

Mounts, N. Ph.D. (2015). Why are teen brains designed for risk-taking?. [Online]. Retrieved from

O’Brien, E. M., & Mindell, J. A. (2005). Sleep and Risk-Taking Behavior in Adolescents. Behavioral Sleep Medicine, 3(3), 113-133. doi:10.1207/s15402010bsm0303_1. Retrieved from

Pasch, K., Laska, M., Lytle, L., & Moe, S. (2010). Adolescent sleep, risk behaviors, and depressive symptoms: are they linked?. American Journal of Health Behavior, 34(2), 237-248. Retrieved from

Ragelienė, T. (2016). Links of Adolescents Identity Development and Relationship with Peers: A Systematic Literature Review. Journal of The Canadian Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 25(2), 97-105. Retrieved from