Self-Control at 220 Miles per Hour: Steering and Braking to Achieve Optimal Outcomes During Adolescence

Kathleen D. Vohs, Alex R. Piquero

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Adolescence is a developmental period characterized by heightened attraction to rewards and risk-taking propensities. Dual-systems models portray the adolescent brain in terms of a maturational mismatch whereby brain systems involved in sensitivity to incentives become potentiated before impulse-control systems have matured. That perspective implies that relying on impulse inhibition to overcome temptation is likely to yield uneven success during adolescence. Using the analogy of practice driving a race car, we propose another process that leads to achieving healthy outcomes: steering aimed at limiting or preventing motivational conflict and thereby lessening reliance on impulse control (termed braking). The focal idea is that the more adolescents can avoid troublesome contexts, the less they will need to depend on their relatively weak impulse-control abilities to avert problems and danger. Recent work links dispositional differences in self-control to indicators of steering, such as situation selection, habit cultivation, and proactive responding. Steering to curb or avoid motivational conflict could be key to promoting healthy outcomes during adolescence, a developmental period characterized by vulnerability to risk, and could have lasting importance given that enduring patterns of unhealthy, dangerous, and self-defeating behaviors often start during this period.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)351-357
Number of pages7
JournalCurrent Directions in Psychological Science
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 23 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2021.


  • adolescence
  • dual-systems models
  • habits
  • proactive responding
  • risk
  • self-control


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