Thursday, January 14, 2010

Risk Taking Matures Teen Brains

New research into how teen brains mature is blowing the lid off the age old myth that the teen brain is naturally immature and susceptible to turmoil. In fact, what we know as that so-called inevitable period of storm and stress is virtually unknown outside of the west and modernized world. According to a Scientific American article, over 100 cultures around the world exist devoid of the angst, depression, and so-called "moodiness" that forms our stereotypes about adolescence here.

Now a study by neuroscientist Gregory S. Berns and his colleagues at Emory University adds a new wrinkle to the gray matter findings, reporting that teens who are risk takers and drug users actually appear to have a more developed brain than their conservative peers.

This should only be a shock to those who believe teens should be locked into the cage of childhood until they attain majority status. It's really no surprise that if teens are actually put into situations where they have to use their brains as adults, that those brains are going to show more maturity than the supposedly "hard-wired" immature brains of the kids under city lock down.

Other researchers have found a connection between increased white matter and reduced impulsivity, Steinberg explains, which could mean a reduced likelihood of risk taking—the opposite of the Berns finding.

For those who don't know, white matter is the areas on the inside composed mainly of neuron connections and is useful for sending messages back and forth between areas of gray matter, which are typically on the surfaces of the brain where the major activity generates. The idea is that as individuals develop and form new experiences, they form connections in their brains that progress their overall intellect.

Nurture influences nature in this instance. Increased white matter would be a result of teens being exposed to more experiences, and it's then not a major stretch to conclude that having experienced more mature situations would decrease impulsivity as well. It's also no surprise that teens who can't do anything but sit around are going to be less mature, more risk-taking, and ultimately less satisfied with their lives (leading to angst, depression...etc.).

In less modernized countries, young people are heavily relied upon, here they are mostly infantilized. They don't need to be taking drugs to mature their brains, they just need a less paranoid society that's willing to grant them more adult rights and responsibilities.

A lot of our conceptions of childhood originated out of philosophical treatises on the subject that have little basis in modern developmental science. It was just assumed that young people are incapable of various adult things because the world was and still is very adult-centric. Back then they didn't understand that it's not that youth are incapable of adult things, it's that they are capable of doing developmentally appropriate things.

With recent developments like this, it may one day begin to change.

1 comment:

  1. Great post! i would definitely agree with you, you are working great and just keep it up.