Researchers from the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas looked at 36 adolescents ages 12-17.
They matched 18 risk-taking teens to a group of 18 non-risk-taking teens according to age and sex.
Participants were screened for risk-taking behaviours, such as drug and alcohol use, sexual promiscuity, and physical violence and underwent functional MRI (fMRI) scans to examine communication between brain regions associated with the emotional-regulation network.
"Our brains have an emotional-regulation network that exists to govern emotions and influence decision-making," said the study's lead author, Sam Dewitt.
"Antisocial or risk-seeking behaviour may be associated with an imbalance in this network," Dewitt said.
The study, conducted by Francesca Filbey, Director of Cognitive Neuroscience Research of Addictive Behaviours at the Center for BrainHealth and her colleagues, showed that risk-taking teens exhibit hyperconnectivity between the amygdala, a centre responsible for emotional reactivity, and specific areas of the prefrontal cortex associated with emotion regulation and critical thinking skills.
The researchers also found increased activity between areas of the prefrontal cortex and the nucleus accumbens, a centre for reward sensitivity that is often implicated in addiction research.
"Our findings are crucial in that they help identify potential brain biomarkers that, when taken into context with behavioural differences, may help identify which adolescents are at risk for dangerous and pathological behaviours in the future," Dewitt said.
The study was published in the journal Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging.