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Brain Scans When Mom’s Not Around: Teenage Risk Edition

Have you ever heard about something your teenage son or daughter has done and said to yourself, “What were they thinking?!”

You are definitely not alone.

Whether it be acting up at school or getting ticketed speeding around the neighborhood, you’ve likely been baffled by your teens’ judgement at times.

They’ve always seemed rather mature and sensible for their age – at least when you are around…

What We Know

Teenagers genuinely enjoy taking risks, something that naturally dies down as their brain develops in their adolescent years and into young adulthood.

Specifically, teenagers have fully developed brain regions dealing with reward processing and simple emotions like anger, fear and happiness – but their connectivity with decision making regions in the frontal lobe isn’t near that of an adult’s.

This can mean acting on half-baked ideas without passing them through the more rational part of their brain.

But this isn’t always the case…

What’s Surprising

New research has shown that the presence of an adult, and even moreso one’s mother, actually influences teenage brains in a way that makes them act more responsibly.

The study hooked teens up to an fMRI and had them play a driving game designed to assess risk – rushing the teens through specially timed traffic lights.

The scans revealed something right out of opposite day…

The teens’ brains actually showed more activity in the reward processing area when they made a safe decision as opposed to when they took a risk.

This happened in the presence of an adult but the strongest activity came when they were driving in front of mother.

Without adult supervision at all, reward processing areas usually light up significantly in teens engaging in risk-taking behavior like gunning through a yellow to make it on time.

These findings will be important to remember next time you find yourself wondering how your teen could do something that seems so “out of character.”

Brain Scans When Mom’s Not Around: Teenage Risk Edition

James Emry

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APA Reference
Emry, J. (2017). Brain Scans When Mom’s Not Around: Teenage Risk Edition. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 20, 2018, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/psychology-personality/2017/03/03/brain-scans-when-moms-not-around-teenage-risk-edition/


Last updated: 3 Mar 2017
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 3 Mar 2017
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.