Brain structural correlates of risk-taking behavior and effects of peer influence in adolescents

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Abstract

Adolescents are characterized by impulsive risky behavior, particularly in the presence of peers. We discriminated high and low risk-taking male adolescents aged 18-19 years by assessing their propensity for risky behavior and vulnerability to peer influence with personality tests, and compared structural differences in gray and white matter of the brain with voxel-based morphometry (VBM) and diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), respectively. We also compared the brain structures according to the participants' actual risk-taking behavior in a simulated driving task with two different social conditions making up a peer competition situation. There was a discrepancy between the self-reported personality test results and risky driving behavior (running through an intersection with traffic lights turning yellow, chancing a collision with another vehicle). Comparison between high and low risk-taking adolescents according to personality test results revealed no significant difference in gray matter volume and white matter integrity. However, comparison according to actual risk-taking behavior during task performance revealed significantly higher white matter integrity in the high risk-taking group, suggesting that increased risky behavior during adolescence is not necessarily attributed to the immature brain as conventional wisdom says.

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Kwon, M. S., Vorobyev, V., Moe, D., Parkkola, R., & Hämäläinen, H. (2014). Brain structural correlates of risk-taking behavior and effects of peer influence in adolescents. PLoS ONE, 9(11). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0112780

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