A new NIMH study documenting brain development could help explain why adolescents are prone to make riskier choices than adults and make it easier to detect mental illness. Results of this new study by Monique Ernst, MD, PhD, and her colleagues from the NIMH Emotional Development and Affective Neuroscience Branch were published in the March 9th issue of Neuropyshologia.
The study involved a game of chance played by 16 seemingly normal adolescents and 14 adults, who at each turn could choose a high-risk or low-risk option to try to win. Scientist measured brain activity while the participants made their choices using technology called functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
The result suggest that adolescents to not engage the higher-thinking, decision-and-reward areas of the brain as much as adults do, suggesting they are not developed yet. When contemplating risky decisions, adolescents show less activity in the orbitofrontal/ventrolateral prefrontal cortex and dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, which is one of the last areas of the brain to develop during adolescence.
The functional message is that as parents, we should not expect our teens to be making decisions that require weighing future consequences!