This upside probably explains why an openness to the new, though it can sometimes kill the cat, remains a highlight of adolescent development.A love of novelty leads directly to useful experience.

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Most long-term drug or alcohol abuse starts during adolescence, and even people who later drink responsibly often drink too much as teens.

Especially in cultures where teenage driving is common, this takes a gory toll: In the U.

S., one in three teen deaths is from car crashes, many involving alcohol. That's the conventional explanation: They're not thinking, or by the work-in-progress model, their puny developing brains fail them. As Laurence Steinberg, a developmental psychologist specializing in adolescence at Temple University, points out, even 14- to 17-year-olds—the biggest risk takers—use the same basic cognitive strategies that adults do, and they usually reason their way through problems just as well as adults.

We court risk more avidly as teens than at any other time.

This shows reliably in the lab, where teens take more chances in controlled experiments involving everything from card games to simulated driving.

And it shows in real life, where the period from roughly 15 to 25 brings peaks in all sorts of risky ventures and ugly outcomes.This age group dies of accidents of almost every sort (other than work accidents) at high rates.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.Impulsivity generally drops throughout life, starting at about age 10, but this love of the thrill peaks at around age 15.And although sensation seeking can lead to dangerous behaviors, it can also generate positive ones: The urge to meet more people, for instance, can create a wider circle of friends, which generally makes us healthier, happier, safer, and more successful.