25 February 2014

Cool, risky teenagers

I have two teenagers and anyone who has brought up that age group will know they tend to show off and take riskier decisions when they are around their friends. It is a well researched area that teenagers are more likely to speed when driving, use alcohol and other drugs and even break the law, when with their friends.
It isn’t just about peer pressure or daring each other though. Neuroscientists are interested in looking for reasons to explain how the process of making decisions differs when teenagers are in groups. Jason Chein, Professor of Psychology at Temple University, Philadelphia took brain scans of teenagers and adults when they were playing a video game in which they drove a car and had to make decisions as to whether to stop at intersections or speed through into oncoming traffic.

The experiment found that when teenagers had friends watching in another room, they were more likely to speed through even though they were not talking to each other at the time. Simply the awareness that they were being watched by their peers influenced their decisions about risk and the underlying brain activity. The reward centre of the brain was more active when they were being watched, leading to more risky decisions, than when they weren’t being observed by their peers.

It may be that kids are anticipating how cool they will seem after pulling off something perceived as risky. But it could also be that simply being with friends turns on the reward centre of the brain, giving more immediate focus to that rather than the part of the brain that urges caution during split-second decision making. Clearly this is just a preliminary piece of research, but it does make me wonder what I can do to try and get my teenagers to take a risk and get out of bed in the mornings!
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