Teenagers, and boys in particular, seem predisposed to risky, erratic behaviors. In a series of 19 new studies published in Developmental Neuroscience, researchers studying brain mechanisms attempt to clarify the enigmatic inner workings of the juvenile male brain.
"The new studies illustrate the neurobiological basis of some of the more unusual but well-known behaviors exhibited by our teenagers," says Pradeep Bhide of Florida State University. "Stress, hormonal changes, complexities of psycho-social environment and peer pressure all contribute to the challenges of assimilation faced by teenagers.”
Unlike with children and adults, the brain area that controls emotions when confronted with a threat showed enhanced activity in teenage males. Even in experiments where adolescent boys were told not to respond to a perceived threat, brain scans still detected a level of activity in their limbic brain (sometimes referred to as the “reptilian brain”) that was strikingly different than that of adult men.
Another study examining brain chemistry found that a molecule that plays a key role in developing fear of dangerous situations is less active in adolescent male brains. Additionally, by measuring brain activity, another team of researchers found that teenage boys were mostly immune to the threat of punishment. The same work demonstrated how these boys were hypersensitive to the possibility of large gains from gambling.
"These studies attempt to isolate, examine and understand some of these potential causes of a teenager's complex conundrum,” Bhide says in a news release. “The research sheds light on how we may be able to better interact with teenagers at home or outside the home, how to design educational strategies and how best to treat or modify a teenager's maladaptive behavior."
[Via Florida State University]