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Journal Article


Rosenbaum GM, Venkatraman V, Steinberg L, Chein JM. Dev. Rev. 2018; 47: 23-43.


Department of Psychology, Temple University Weiss Hall, 1701 N. 13 St., Philadelphia, PA 19122.


(Copyright © 2018, Elsevier Publishing)








Adolescents are known to take more risks than adults, which can be harmful to their health and well-being. However, despite age differences in real-world risk taking, laboratory risk-taking paradigms often do not evince these developmental patterns. Recent findings in the literature suggest that this inconsistency may be due in part to differences between how adolescents process information about risk when it is described (e.g., in a description-based classroom intervention) versus when it is experienced (e.g., when a teenager experiences the outcome of a risky choice). The present review considers areas of research that can inform approaches to intervention by deepening our understanding of risk taking in described or experienced contexts. We examine the literature on the description-experience gap, which has generally been limited to studies of adult samples, but which highlights differential decision making when risk information is described versus experienced. Informed by this work, we then explore the developmental literature comparing adolescent to adult decision making, and consider whether inconsistencies in age-related findings might be explained by distinguishing between studies in which participants learn about decision outcomes through experience versus description. In light of evidence that studies using experience-based tasks more often show age differences in risk taking, we consider the implications of this pattern, and argue that experience-based tasks may be more ecologically valid measures of adolescent risky decision making, in part due to the heightened affective nature of these tasks. Finally, we propose a model to integrate our findings with theories of adolescent risk-taking, and discuss implications for risk-reduction messaging.

Language: en


Adolescents; Description-experience gap; Risky decision making


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