Adolescent exploratory behavior is linked to better psychological well-being and wider social networks

Adolescent exploratory behavior is linked to better psychological well-being and wider social networks

The researchers also found that teens who explored their natural environment more also had a higher number of risky behaviors.

Psychological Science. “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 results, which were published in the journal Nature Neurosciencehighlighted a link between our daily physical environment and our sense of well-being.

In the news Psychological Science Hartley, Heller, and UCLA PhD student Natalie Saragosa-Harris sought to better understand adolescents’ and young adults’ exploration of their environment, how it relates to the behaviors we tend to view as “risky” and the psychological significance of these behaviors.

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

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

To better understand these phenomena, scientists measured the daily lives of 58 teenagers and adults (ages 13 to 27) in New York City, using GPS tracking to measure how often participants visited places new within three months. From these measurements, they were able to capture daily movement-based exploration. From this GPS data and participants’ statements, the researchers found several notable trends:

  • There is 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.
  • Regardless of age, people reported being in a better mood 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 the subjects interacted with through phone calls and direct messaging platforms.
  • Teens who explored their natural environment more also reported more risky behaviors (e.g. gambling, binge drinking, using street drugs, etc.) – an association not evident in adults.

These results show that exploration plays an important role in maintaining adolescent well-being and establishing social connections. And while risky behaviors undoubtedly pose challenges, a healthy dose of exploration is important, especially as individuals mature, gain independence, and form their identities. »

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

Other authors of the paper include Alexandra Cohen of New York University 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).

Source :

Journal reference:

Saragosa-Harris, NM, et al. (2022) Exploration of the real world increases during adolescence and is linked to affect, risk taking and social connectedness. Psychological Science. doi.org/10.1177/09567976221102070.