A lot of studies have characterized the teenage brain as something that is open to taking a lot of risks. Teenagers are always looking for quick rewards and experiencing thrills. This kind of lifestyle makes acting responsibly take a back seat. However, a new study suggests that teens having such a risk-taking brain may actually help them be better, compared to adults, when it comes to learning certain kinds of things.
The lead author of the study, Juliet Davidow, a postdoctoral researcher at Harvard University in the Affective Neuroscience and Development Lab, said that in neuroscience researchers are always looking for the reason behind why a brain acts a specific way. The current study was published in the journal Neuron.
A lot of the public, even scientists, end up focusing on the negatives associated with teen behavior. That is why Dr. Juliet and her team set out to find the reason behind the risk-taking brain activity that teenagers have.
A structure in the brain which is known as the striatum has been observed to be responsible for the reward-seeking drive that teenagers have. When a person experiences something good, dopamine is produced inside the body which leads to a response from the striatum. The striatum is very active in teenagers. This activity also shows that the prefrontal cortex isn’t fully developed in such beings.
The prefrontal cortex is responsible for helping people control their impulses. The combination of an active striatum and a prefrontal cortex that still needs to be developed may be responsible for the behavior that teenagers exhibit.
As explained by Daphna Shohamy the striatum is also involved in making people learn from rewards. Dr. Daphna is a cognitive neuroscientist at the Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute at Columbia University. She also worked on the current study. She wanted to observe whether or not teenagers were better at a specific kind of learning compared to adults.
An fMRI scanner was used for the purpose of this study. The scanner was able to watch the activity of the brain in a group of teenagers and adults. The researchers were observing the striatum as well as the hippocampus. The hippocampus is responsible for allowing people to remember things such as the time of an event and dates.
While the participants were getting their brains scanned they were also made to play a game. Guessing correctly in the game provided people with rewards. Random pictures of neutral objects were shown to both adults and teenagers between questions. The study showed that the game was figured out quickly by teens compared to adults. The striatum was active in both groups; however, it seemed to work closely with the hippocampus in teens.
Both the teens and adults were also given a memory test. Random pictures, flashing on the screen, were to be recalled by all of the participants. The results showed that both adults and teens were good at remembering the images. The difference was found in the manner of their recalling. Teens had a higher chance of remembering an image, compared to adults, when it was linked to getting something correct during the learning test.
According to Dr. Shohamy, teenage is the stage of life that allows human beings to become independent. Looking for rewards might be the reason that allows teens to try new things as they grow. She noted that in order for them to better understand how the teenage brain worked they would need to replicate their current findings. She suggested observing the link between the striatum and the hippocampus in children and possibly seeing when these two regions of the brain start cooperating and at what age they stopped.