Adolescent Risk-Taking and Social Meaning: A Commentary

16 Pages Posted: 3 Feb 2008

See all articles by Cass R. Sunstein

Cass R. Sunstein

Harvard Law School; Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS)


Why do adolescents take risks? What is the appropriate response to adolescent risk-taking? This Commentary for a special issue of Developmental Review, discussing a set of papers in that issue, explores these questions with attention to changes in the adolescent brain, to dual-processing theory, to social influences, and to fuzzy-trace theory. It contends that adolescent risk-taking is often driven by the social meaning of risk and caution, and that social meaning operates as a tax on or a subsidy to behavior. Changes in social meaning present a serious collective action problem, but also a valuable opportunity for both law and policy.

Keywords: adolescent risk taking, dual processing theory, social meaning

Suggested Citation

Sunstein, Cass R., Adolescent Risk-Taking and Social Meaning: A Commentary. Developmental Review, Vol. 28, No. 4, pp. 421-570, December 2008, U of Chicago Law & Economics, Olin Working Paper No. 386, U of Chicago, Public Law Working Paper No. 198, Harvard Law School Program on Risk Regulation Research Paper No. 08-16, Available at SSRN:

Cass R. Sunstein (Contact Author)

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Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) ( email )

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