Most long-term drug or alcohol abuse starts during adolescence, and even people who later drink responsibly often drink too much as teens.
To see past the distracting, dopey teenager and glimpse the adaptive adolescent within, we should look not at specific, sometimes startling, behaviors, such as skateboarding down stairways or dating fast company, but at the broader traits that underlie those acts. We all like new and exciting things, but we never value them more highly than we do during adolescence.
Here we hit a high in what behavioral scientists call sensation seeking: the hunt for the neural buzz, the jolt of the unusual or unexpected. You might plan a sensation-seeking experience—a skydive or a fast drive—quite deliberately, as my son did.
In this case Steinberg added friends: When he brought a teen's friends into the room to watch, the teen would take twice as many risks, trying to gun it through lights he'd stopped for before.
The adults, meanwhile, drove no differently with a friend watching.
To Steinberg, this shows clearly that risk-taking rises not from puny thinking but from a higher regard for reward.