Tuesday, October 11, 2016

News U Can Use: "Why Risky Behavior Increases During Tween/Teen Years"

"Adolescents among humans and non-human animals alike are more inclined to engage in heightened risk-taking behavior, exploration and novelty seeking. Although these attributes provide adaptive value in enabling individuals to gain importance in the world, including independence from parents, if taken too far, this tendency could lead to potentially dangerous behavior, including drug use, harmful drinking, addiction, unsafe sex, and risky driving, which may result in unintended injuries, violence and/or even premature death. A new Dartmouth study just published in Current Biology demonstrates for the first time, the causal relationship between behavioral control and a specific imbalance in brain function that exists during adolescence. (A pdf of the study is available upon request).

Adolescent-specific behavior may be driven by an imbalance in activity between the prefrontal cortex (PFC), an area of the brain involved in cognitive control and inhibition, which does not fully develop until the late teens/early 20s, and the nucleus accumbens (NAC), which plays a central role in reward-seeking and addiction. Past research has found that adolescents that engage in risk-taking behavior have trouble inhibiting such behavior as compared to either adults or pre-adolescents. Researchers have postulated that the low activity in PFC with concurrent high activity in NAC, an imbalance which appears to exist only during adolescence, is essentially at odds with each other.... 

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