Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Teen Brain

During my usual internet browsing this week I came across an interesting article on the National Geographic website.  It's called Beautiful Brains and was written by David Dobbs.

The whole basis of the article is: Why do teens act the way they do?


I think that's a darn good question.

Well, Dobbs gives us an explanation, which I think makes a huge difference when we're writing about teens.  It really explains the difference in perception!

A test was done by Beatriz Luna on a range of students from 10 to 20 years old, which involved a video game type setting where the instructions were simple: don't look at the blinking light.

What Luna found most interesting, however, was not [the] scores. It was the brain scans she took while people took the test. Compared with adults, teens tended to make less use of brain regions that monitor performance, spot errors, plan, and stay focused—areas the adults seemed to bring online automatically.

 Interesting, right?

These studies help explain why teens behave with such vexing inconsistency: beguiling at breakfast, disgusting at dinner; masterful on Monday, sleepwalking on Saturday. Along with lacking experience generally, they're still learning to use their brain's new networks. Stress, fatigue, or challenges can cause a misfire.
 Then Dobbs suggests perhaps it's actually more than just the brain's growth that causes the sometimes outrageous actions of teens.
As B. J. Casey, a neuroscientist at Weill Cornell Medical College who has spent nearly a decade applying brain and genetic studies to our understanding of adolescence, puts it, "We're so used to seeing adolescence as a problem. But the more we learn about what really makes this period unique, the more adolescence starts to seem like a highly functional, even adaptive period. It's exactly what you'd need to do the things you have to do then."

So, in essence, there's nothing lacking in the still-developing teen brain.  In fact, Dobbs suggests perception could be the issue.

As Laurence Steinberg, a developmental psychologist specializing in adolescence at Temple University, points out, even 14- to 17-year-olds—the biggest risk takers—use the same basic cognitive strategies that adults do, and they usually reason their way through problems just as well as adults. Contrary to popular belief, they also fully recognize they're mortal. And, like adults, says Steinberg, "teens actually overestimate risk."

So if teens think as well as adults do and recognize risk just as well, why do they take more chances? Here, as elsewhere, the problem lies less in what teens lack compared with adults than in what they have more of. Teens take more risks not because they don't understand the dangers but because they weigh risk versus reward differently: In situations where risk can get them something they want, they value the reward more heavily than adults do.

 I don't know about you guys, but that makes perfect sense to me.  As an adult, impressing my friend by driving too fast or pulling a crazy stunt doesn't hold the same reward as it does to a teen.  Even if the fact that it is rewarding to a teen is cringe-worthy.

What do you guys think?  Does this give you a better idea for writing a teenage protagonist?  A little deeper understanding of your own kids?  ;) 

If you'd like to read the full article, go HERE.


Pam Harris said...

Interesting! So weird, but I think I'm more of a "teen" now then when I was actually a teenager. I used to be a scaredy cat; I take WAY more risks now. :)

kirstenlopresti said...

What an interesting article. So informative! Thanks.