teens taking risks: effects on brain development

A well-known neuroscience theory states that teens who exhibit spontaneous and impulsive risky behaviour experience slow development of the prefrontal cortex by giving it poor connectivity with the brain reward regions. However, a recent extensive literature review that was published in Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience journal does not support this theory.

How risk-taking affects the teen brain development

Dr Alastair Brown dearjane.com.au of went through the evidence behind this theory and realised that a lot of these teen impulsive actions were grossly misconstrued and misjudged. Instead, the reviewers concluded that most of what appears as adolescent impulsivity found in teens is actually the quest to explore and know more about the world.

Recently the answer to teenage impulsivity has been described as a result of raging hormones; the debate was later moved to slow development of the prefrontal cortex. It has now been realised that researchers were too quick to conclude on an issue that does not have anything to do with brain deficit as the result of adolescent impulsivity.

The writer of an article that was posted online said that brain growth does not recognise the impacts of several types of risk-taking that teens exhibit. Teens have been known to have a high affection and connection to exciting experiences and books, which is also called sensation-seeking that reaches its peak during adolescence. However, this does not automatically mean that every teen who shows sensation seeking will be vulnerable to health issues like the use of substance and addiction to gambling which is regarded as the most popular vices commonly found in a teenager.

The writer also added that the increase in adolescent levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is known to be the factor that causes an increase in impulsive sensations, has an impact in the development of the brain to have more control and to learn from experience.

‘The reason for this sensation is the absence of experience’ Romer added. ‘This makes them try out new things like learning how to drive, learning how to use drugs and picking the type of clothes to wear and the type of friends to move with. Some of these teens find this as an issue. Mistakes are bound to happen when you try something for the first time.’ Experts have concluded that this absence of control for teens is just their eagerness to explore their world’.

Brain growth and risk-taking

Researchers have further explained that the general belief of the risky adolescent is largely based on the increase of the particular behaviour in adolescence than on its prevalence. For most adolescents, this period of their growth passes without them depending on substances or other issues which include homicide, pregnancy, depression, sexually transmitted diseases or death due to car accidents.

It has been realised that those who experience health issues from impulsive actions and weak cognitive control form a smaller group. Teens that experience control issues can often be identified at the ages of four or five, and they are largely unlikely to experience the issues of adolescence that have been listed above which include sexually transmitted infections, car accidents and the rest.

An effective option

Researchers have suggested an alternative review that outlines the effects of risk-taking and what it adds to the development of an adolescent. This review basically talks about the evident increase in risk-taking by adolescents as ‘the quest to have the experience needed to assume adult responsibilities and behaviour.’ This means that the experience gathered from taking a particular risk will directly have an impact on the way adolescents take more risks moving forward with their lives.

One of the researchers, Valerie Reyna, PhD, director of the Human Neuroscience Institute at Cornell University said ‘Recent study has shown that an individual’s perception of risk-taking changes as they mature, and current experience gathered will be used in brain development to know more about risk-taking’

It has been concluded that the major reason why teens explore and take these risks is to gather experience so that they can be in a better position when the time to comes to make more difficult and risky decisions in their life. These decisions include choosing who to marry, taking up a new job and leaving the current one. Most parents find this period in the lives of their kids as very challenging but it does not mean that the adolescent brain is experiencing slow development or lacking proper cognitive control.