Resolving ambiguity: Broadening the consideration of risky decision making over adolescent development

Neeltje E. Blankenstein, Scott A. Huettel, Rosa Li

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


Popular culture often portrays adolescence as a period of peak risk-taking, but that developmental trend is not consistently found across laboratory studies. Instead, meta-analytic evidence shows that while adolescents take more risks compared to adults, children and adolescents actually take similar levels of risk. Furthermore, developmental trajectories vary across different measures of laboratory decision making and everyday risky behavior. Indeed, the psychological concept of “risk” is multifactorial, such that its different factors exhibit different developmental trajectories. Here, we examine how economic risk preference, or the propensity to gamble on uncertain outcomes with known probabilities, is distinct from economic ambiguity preference, or the propensity to gamble on uncertain outcomes with unknown probabilities – and how economic risk and ambiguity may differentially influence adolescent decision making. Economic ambiguity engages distinct neural mechanisms from economic risk – both in adults and adolescents – and differentially relates to everyday risk-taking. However, to date, it remains elusive how economic ambiguity aversion develops across adolescence, as the relative paucity of such work limits the conclusions that can be drawn. We propose that developmental research into adolescent decision making should consider economic ambiguity as a distinct component within the multifactorial construct of adolescent risk-taking. This will set the stage for future work on economic ambiguity preferences as an explanatory mechanism for behaviors beyond risk taking, such as learning and prosocial behavior.

Original languageEnglish
Article number100987
JournalDevelopmental Review
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021


  • Adolescence
  • Ambiguity
  • Development
  • Risk taking

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