Kathryn Lindsay
September 11, 2015 8:00 am

As a teen, you get a pretty bad rap. Everyone expects you to not just make mistakes (which is natural!) but to royally screw up. It’s unclear how that expectation was set, since a new study reveals that teens are actually super rational.

Scott Huettel, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University, wanted to take a look at rationality when it comes to decision making. His hypothesis is a little unexpected:

They decided to test this idea by giving participants a choice of scenarios involving winning and losing money. The chances were split into thirds, with a 1/3 chance of winning $6, a 1/3 chance of winning $4, and a 1/3 of losing $4. When they presented the options, they found that participants of different ages chose different options, and it revealed something important about teens.

The teens and pre-teens involved approached the scenarios with a sense of reserve, attempting to pick the option that would minimize loss while maximizing profit. This is in contrast to the young adults, who were a little more reckless with their decision making. Their eyes were on the most amount of money, and that was it.

They published their findings in Cognitive Development, and it’s opened up the road for further study. For instance, if teens are really more rational, why the high rate of teen driving deaths? Huettel has an answer:

Now, they want to start looking at teen decision making based on context, since having friends around may impair the rational decisions this study reveals. Until then, you’re allowed to walk around feeling smug. Just don’t get too many friends involved.

(Image via Shutterstock.)

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