How adolescents navigate uncertainty, with a little help from their friends

Colloquium | February 5 | 12:10-1:30 p.m. | 3105 Tolman Hall

 Wouter van den Bos, Center for Adaptive Rationality, Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Berlin

 Institute of Human Development

Despite the increased prevalence of adolescent risk-taking behavior in the real world, laboratory evidence of adolescent specific risk taking propensity remains scarce. In contrast with the lab, adolescents in the real world often have only incomplete information about risks. There is currently very little known about how adolescents make decisions under these uncertain conditions. To address this issue, we studied how adolescents search for information before make decisions. In a large behavioral study (N=105,ages 8-22) we found adolescents searched for less information before making a decision, were less averse of uncertainty, and made more risky decisions. In a follow up fMRI study, comparing adults (N=25, ages 18-25) and adolescents (N=30, ages 11-15), we used a Bayesian model to track the processes involved in learning probabilities and decision-making. Again, we found that adolescents were less skilled in learning probabilities and were more risk-seeking compared to adults. In addition, we find that adolescents reported level of confidence is less well calibrated to level of uncertainty associated with the stimuli. Finally, our results suggest that adults, but not adolescents, consistently take estimation uncertainty into account when making choices. This was supported our finding that the VMPFC is encoding the uncertainty in adults but not for the adolescents. Finally, I will present novel behavioral studies on how adolescents use social information to reduce uncertainty and guide their choices in uncertain environments., 510-642-7239