Adolescent exploratory behavior linked to improved psychological well-being and broader social networks

Teens become more exploratory in their behaviors as they age, becoming more likely to visit new places over time, according to a new study. His results also show that greater exploration is associated with improved psychological well-being and broader social networks.

Notably, the researchers also found that teens who explored their natural environment more also reported more risky behaviors.

“While adolescent risk-taking is generally considered a problematic behavior, we found that increased exploration was also linked to greater social connectedness and emotional well-being,” says Catherine Hartley, associate professor in the Department of Psychology at New York University and senior author. of the study, which appears in the journal Psychological sciences. “This suggests that risk-taking may have an adaptive function during adolescence.”

Previously, Hartley and Aaron Heller of the University of Miami reported that new and diverse experiences are linked to increased happiness and that this relationship is associated with a greater correlation of brain activity. These findings, published in the journal Natural neuroscienceshowed a link between our daily physical environments and our sense of well-being.

In the new Psychological sciences work, Hartley, Heller, and UCLA doctoral student Natalie Saragosa-Harris sought to better understand adolescents’ and young adults’ exploration of their environment, its connection to the behaviors we tend to view as “risky” and the psychological significance thereof. behaviors might be.

Previous studies have suggested that, compared to older children and adults, adolescents and young adults tend to engage in more exploratory and novelty-seeking behaviors, whether trying new hobbies -time, sample new groups of friends or visit new places.

However, most studies of adolescent exploratory behaviors have relied on self-report or behavior in controlled laboratory settings, leaving open the question of whether increased adolescent exploration is evident in the real world. -; when participants are in natural everyday environments.

To better capture these phenomena, scientists measured the daily lives of 58 teens and adults (ages 13 to 27) in New York City, using GPS tracking to measure how often participants visited new places over the course of their lives. of three months. From these measurements, they were able to capture everyday motion-based exploration. Based on this GPS data and the self-report, the researchers found several notable patterns:

  • There was an association between daily exploration and age, with individuals close to the transition to legal adulthood (18 to 21 years) showing the highest levels of exploration.
  • People of all ages reported better moods on days when they explored more, supporting the idea that exploration is linked to psychological well-being.
  • People who had higher average levels of exploration also reported greater social networks; measured by the number of unique individuals subjects interacted with via phone calls and direct messaging platforms.
  • Teens who explored their natural environment more also reported more risky behaviors (eg, gambling, heavy drinking, illicit drug use, etc.); an association not evident in adults.

These findings indicate an important role for exploration in maintaining adolescent well-being and establishing social connectedness. And while risky behaviors undoubtedly pose challenges, a fair amount of exploration is important, particularly as individuals mature, gain independence, and form their identities.”

Catherine Hartley, Associate Professor, Department of Psychology, New York University

Other authors of the paper included Alexandra Cohen of NYU and Travis Reneau and William Villano of the University of Miami.

This research was supported by a National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development Award (BCS-1654393).


Journal reference:

Saragosa-Harris, New Mexico, et al. (2022) Real-world exploration increases through adolescence and is linked to affect, risk-taking, and social connectedness. Psychological sciences.

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