Adolescent Risk Behavior: Differentiating Reasoned And Reactive Risk-taking

  • Julie Maslowsky
  • Olusegun Owotomo
  • Edward D. Huntley
  • Daniel Keating
Empirical Research


Although explanatory models of adolescent risk behavior have predominantly focused on adolescents’ limited ability to self-regulate impulsive and/or reward-driven behavior (reactive risk behavior), recent arguments suggest that a significant proportion of adolescent risk behavior may actually be strategic and planned in advance (reasoned risk behavior). The present study evaluates hypothesized predictors of reasoned versus reactive risk behavior using self-reported and neurocognitive task data from a large, diverse adolescent sample (N = 1266 participants; N = 3894 risk behaviors). Participants’ mean age was 16.5 years (SD = 1.1); 56.9% were female, 61.9% White, 17.1% Black, 7.0% Hispanic, and 14.1% other race/ethnicity; 40% were in 10th grade, 60% in 12th grade. As hypothesized, reasoned risk behavior (compared to reactive risk behavior) was associated with higher levels of sensation seeking, better working memory, greater future orientation, and perceiving risk behavior to be more beneficial than risky. These results support the distinction between reasoned and reactive risk behavior as meaningful subtypes of adolescent risk behavior and challenge prevailing frameworks that attribute adolescent risk behavior primarily to poor response inhibition.


Risk behavior Sensation seeking Future orientation Working memory Risk/benefit appraisal 


Authors’ Contribution

J.M. conceived of the study, conducted the statistical analysis, and wrote the initial draft of the manuscript. O.O. assisted in study conception and writing. D.K. and E.D.H. designed and executed the survey. E.D.H. organized data preparation, and assisted in study conception and writing. D.K. assisted in study conception and writing. All authors read and approved the manuscript.


This work was supported by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, Grants R01HD075806 (PI: Keating), K01HD091416 (PI: Maslowsky), and R24HD042849 (to the Population Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin, of which Maslowsky is a faculty affiliate).

Data Sharing and Declaration

The investigators are committed to sharing the data generated through this research, however, data collection is currently ongoing and is not currently publically available. Under the terms of our grant, we intend to make data available to the wider research community within 12 months following the completion of data collection. This includes all self-report, neurocognitive, and imaging parameters which will be included in the database, along with demographic information that does not risk confidentiality

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. The study has been granted ethical approval by the University of Michigan Institutional review Board.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from parents of all minor participants included in the study. Minor participants also provided assent to participate. Participants age 18 and older provided informed consent to participate.

Supplementary material

10964_2018_978_MOESM1_ESM.docx (14 kb)
Supplementary Table 1


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Kinesiology and Health EducationUniversity of Texas at AustinAustinUSA
  2. 2.Population Research CenterUniversity of Texas at AustinAustinUSA
  3. 3.Department of Population Health, Dell Medical SchoolUniversity of Texas at AustinAustinUSA
  4. 4.Institute for Social ResearchUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA
  5. 5.Department of PsychologyUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA

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