Modeling Trajectories of Sensation Seeking and Impulsivity Dimensions from Early to Late Adolescence: Universal Trends or Distinct Sub-groups?
Developmental imbalance models attribute the rise in risk-taking during adolescence to a universal imbalance between rising reward sensitivity and lagging cognitive control. This study tested predictions of an alternate Lifespan Wisdom Model that distinguishes between exploratory/adaptive (e.g., sensation seeking) and maladaptive (e.g., acting-without-thinking, delay discounting) risk-taking propensities and attributes the latter to a sub-set of youth with weak cognitive control. Latent trajectory modeling of six waves of data from 387 adolescents (52% females; spanning average ages of 11–18 years) revealed distinct sub-groups with heterogeneous trajectory patterns for acting-without-thinking and delay-discounting. Only those trajectory groups with weak cognitive control, characterized as “high-increasing” acting-without thinking and “high-stable” delay discounting were predictive of a maladaptive risk-taking outcome, namely substance use disorder. Sensation seeking demonstrated a universal peak, but high levels of sensation seeking were not associated with weakness in cognitive control and were unrelated to substance use disorder, controlling for impulsivity. The findings suggest that maladaptive risk-taking characterized by weak cognitive control over reward-driven impulses is a phenomenon limited to only a sub-set of youth.
KeywordsImpulsivity Sensation seeking Adolescence Risk-taking Developmental trends
We thank Kristin Arena, Nancy Brodsky, and Joan Giannetta for their invaluable contributions to the execution of the study.
A.K. and D.R. conceived the study and participated in its design and coordination; A.K. conducted the statistical analyses and prepared the first draft of the manuscript; L.B. and H.H. led the data collection efforts and participated in the interpretation of the data; D.R., H.H., and L.B. edited and provided feedback on the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.
Data Sharing and Declaration
The data sets analyzed in the current study are not publicly available but are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.
This research was supported by grants R01DA018913 and R01DA033996 from the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.
Compliance with Ethical Standards
Conflict of Interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
The study was approved by the Institutional Review Board of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. All procedures performed involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional review committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.
Informed consent was obtained from all participants at age 18 or older. Parental consent and child assent was obtained when the participants were under age 18.
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