It’s typically the reckless teenagers and young adults who are seen as the risk-takers. Brazen and impulsive, and often immature, they do “stupid things” without thinking. However, new research suggests that taking risks may not be a sign of immaturity; rather, it may be proof that the person is pretty smart and open to new challenges.

The study was completed at the University of Turku in Finland, and it analyzed 34 young males aged 18 to 19. After having the participants take psychological tests to determine whether they were risk-takers or not, the researchers divided them into two groups (high and low risk-takers). As past research has linked low risk-taking with a sharper brain, the researchers expected that the more hesitant, cautious participants were smarter. But they were surprised to find the opposite.

“We expected to find that young men who spend time considering what they are going to do in a given risk situation would have more highly developed neural networks in their brains than those who make quick decisions and take chances,” Dagfinn Moe, a SINTEF researcher and behavioral analyst as well as an author of the study, said in the press release. “This has been well documented in a series of studies, but our project revealed the complete opposite.”

During the study, the researchers used a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine to take images of the participants’ brains. They focused on the white matter of the brain, which contains the neural network and is essential in maintaining communication between different regions of the brain. Because it’s so important in cognitive function, white matter is often described as the brain’s “superhighways.” They also examined the participants’ gray matter.

They then had the participants take part in a driving simulation test, in which they had to “drive” through 20 traffic lights. The participants had to decide, upon approaching an amber light, to either stop or to take a chance and run through the light — and the ultimate goal was to get through all the lights as quickly as possible. Of course, one might believe that people who are more careful are generally more intelligent. But the researchers found that the participants who made quicker, riskier decisions during the driving simulations had more white matter than those who paused to evaluate the situation and progress safely, contrary to their initial hypothesis.

In other words, safe doesn’t always mean intelligent. The researchers aren’t entirely sure why risk-taking is linked to more developed brains (and whether that’s even 100 percent the case), but they believe it may have something to do with the fact that risk-takers are more likely to seek out challenges. Risk-takers are curious and hungry for new things, likely for the sake of learning and experience.

“All the positive brain chemicals respond under such conditions, promoting growth factors that contribute to the development of the robust neural networks that form the basis of our physical and mental skills,” Moe said in the press release. “Daring and risk-willingness activate and challenge the brain’s capacity and contribute toward learning, coping strategies, and development.”

Of course, take the study with a grain of salt: Many extreme risk-takers can bring detriment to their lives, and it’s not completely proven that taking a chance is going to make you smarter. Regardless, the study suggests that we shouldn’t always assume that curiosity killed the cat; in many cases, curiosity may open up new worlds for the cat.

Source: Vorobyev V, Soo Kwon M, Moe D, Parkkola R, Hämäläinen H. Risk-Taking Behavior in a Computerized Driving Task: Brain Activation Correlates of Decision-Making, Outcome, and Peer Influence in Male Adolescents. PLOS ONE. 2015.