Previous research had suggested adolescents participate in risky behavior because of their tolerance for risks. New research proposes that may not be the case.

Researchers from New York University, Yale's School of Medicine and Fordham University, found that when adolescents are faced with a difficult situation they often assume the situation is tolerable due to a lack of knowledge. Researchers believe adolescents risky behavior stems from their comfort and only having a vague understanding of the situation.

"Our findings show that teenagers enter unsafe situations not because they are drawn to dangerous or risky situations, but, rather, because they aren't informed enough about the odds of the consequences of their actions," explained Agnieszka Tymula, a post-doctoral researcher at NYU's Center for Neural Science and one of the study's co-authors.

"Once they truly understand a risky situation, they are, if anything, even more risk averse than adults. The study also offers new possibilities for communicating with this age group-providing adolescents with statistics highlighting the risks of dangerous behaviors or training that allows them to learn about risks in a safe way, which may be effective in limiting them," she continued.

Researchers led several trials involving youths between the ages of 12 and 17 and adults between the ages of 30 and 50. In the study, volunteers had to make a number of financial decisions, with each decision having a different degree of risk. Volunteers had to choose between a definite payoff of $5 or a risky gamble, where the payoff ranged from not receiving any money up to 25 times the definite payoff.  Researchers informed each participant how much they could win and the exact probabilities of wining.

The study revealed that the younger age group took fewer risks compared to the older age group. They were more likely to take risks when they were not adequately informed about the potential risks.

"What we found was that when risks were precisely stated, adolescents avoided them at least as much, and sometimes more, than adults," added Ifat Levy, an assistant professor of comparative medicine and of neurobiology at the Yale School of Medicine and one of the study's co-authors.

The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.