The terrible teens have long been known to parents – but scientists have now found out why some teenagers are prone to taking huge risks as well as seeming antisocial.
They say the research could explain why unintentional injuries are the leading cause of death for adolescents.
They also say it could explain their seemingly antisocial behaviour – and say it is similar to addiction.
New research from the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas found that connections between certain brain regions are amplified in teens more prone to risk.
‘Our brains have an emotional-regulation network that exists to govern emotions and influence decision-making,’ explained the study’s lead author, Sam Dewitt.
‘Antisocial or risk-seeking behaviour may be associated with an imbalance in this network.’
The study, conducted by Francesca Filbey, Ph.D., Director of Cognitive Neuroscience Research of Addictive Behaviors at the Center for BrainHealth and her colleagues, shows that risk-taking teens exhibit hyperconnectivity between the amygdala, a center responsible for emotional reactivity, and specific areas of the prefrontal cortex associated with emotion regulation and critical thinking skills.
‘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 behaviors in the future,’ Dewitt explained.
By identifying these factors early on, the research team hopes to have a better chance of providing effective cognitive strategies to help risk-seeking adolescents regulate their emotions and avoid risk-taking behavior and substance abuse.
The study, published June 30 in Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, looked at 36 adolescents ages 12-17; eighteen risk-taking teens were age- and sex-matched to a group of 18 non-risk-taking teens.
Participants were screened for risk-taking behaviors, 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.
Interestingly, the risk-taking group showed significantly lower income compared to the non-risk taking group.
‘Most fMRI scans used to be done in conjunction with a particular visual task. In the past several years, however, it has been shown that performing an fMRI scan of the brain during a ‘mind-wandering’ state is just as valuable,’said Sina Aslan, at The University of Texas at Dallas.
‘In this case, brain regions associated with emotion and reward centers show increased connection even when they are not explicitly engaged.’