Adolescence, a period of significant physical, social, and neurobiological change, coincides with a rise in novelty-seeking behaviours. Recent theories propose that seeking novel experiences supports adolescents to explore their surroundings and gain the experiential knowledge necessary for adulthood. In Chapters 3, 4 and 5 I address the first aim of this thesis, which was to identify the computational mechanisms that contribute to the rise of novelty-seeking in adolescence. I utilised a patch foraging paradigm which measures the individual’s preference for exploiting rewards that are immediately available or exploring novel patches in their environment to search for a potentially larger reward. In Chapters 3 and 4, I demonstrate that adolescents aged 16-17 explored more and integrated reward feedback faster than adults aged 21+. In Chapter 5, I demonstrate that stochasticity is a critical mechanism that facilitates novelty seeking in volatile environments for adolescents aged 16-17 and adults aged 24+. The second aim of this thesis was to test whether social influence differentially affects novelty seeking in adolescence compared to adulthood. However, in Chapter 6 I found that both adolescents’ and adults’ exploration behaviours are susceptible to social influence. The final aim of this thesis was to test the predictions of a theory that explains how experiences of adversity during childhood impact decision-making in adulthood. In Chapter 7, I demonstrate that adults who have been exposed to adversity explore their surroundings less and underweight reward feedback compared to individuals without these experiences, supporting the predictions of a theory explaining how adversity impacts decision-making. The findings of this thesis demonstrate that heightened exploration in adolescence is associated with positive outcomes, though these behaviours are susceptible to social influence and adverse experiences, highlighting potential avenues for intervention to protect adolescents from harmful outcomes and promote positive outcomes for this age group.
|1 Apr 2022
|Unpublished - 2021