Newswise — Valerie Reyna, professor of human development at Cornell University and an expert on risky teen behavior, comments on a new study finding that six percent of eighth grade children had participated in the choking game, in which blood flow to the brain is cut to experience a simulated high.

Fuzzy-trace theory is a model of the relationship between memory and reasoning with two broad categories of mental representations: Verbatim traces, which are precise or exact features, and gist traces, which convey a general or essential meaning. From childhood to adulthood, decision-making becomes less computational and more intuitive. Reyna says:

“Horrifying by adult standards, the choking game can be understood in terms of modern theories of teen risky decision making. Some teens explain their behavior by pointing out that many other avenues for achieving a high are illegal: alcohol, illicit drugs and sex are subject to age restrictions. According to fuzzy-trace theory, teens often calculate risks and benefits, rather than simply taking risks on impulse. Therefore, this illogical logic suggests that choking—which is not illegal—provides benefits without the costs associated with illegality.

“The ultimate cost of death is rare in the sense that, most of the time, it does not happen. Fuzzy-trace theory explains why this kind of teen logic is horrific to adults, who generally view choking to death as a low, but clearly unacceptable, risk.”

Reyna spoke about risky teen behavior and fuzzy-trace theory during a recent Cornell University event in New York City. Watch the video here:

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