Why Do Teens Exhibit Risk-Taking Behavior? Imbalanced Brain Activity May Cause Adolescents To Act Out

Risky behavior and teenagers have gone hand-in-hand since before William Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet back in 1597. A new study from researchers at Dartmouth College has found that acting out may actually start with the brain due to an imbalance in activity between the brain's prefrontal cortex and the nucleus accumbens.

Researchers suggest that this crucial part of brain development, which only exists during the adolescent period, is the driving force behind a teen's risk-taking behavior. The prefrontal cortex doesn’t fully develop until your late teens or early 20s, and this part of the mind is involved in cognitive control and inhibition, according to a university statement. The nucleus accumbens plays a role in reward-seeking and addiction.

The rat study, published in Current Biology, revealed that there was low activity in the brain's prefrontal cortex at this time in adolescence, but activity in the nucleus accumbens was high.

vacation Everyone knows that teenagers exhibit risky behavior, but why? Photo courtesy of Pixabay

To reach these conclusions, researchers used a chemogenetic approach called Designer Receptors Exclusively Activated by Designer Drugs (DREADDs), which enables researchers to temporarily "remotely control" the activity of brain cells. In this study, it was used to simulate the imbalance that takes place during adolescence, according to Science Daily. 

Researchers studied these DREADDs results on adult rats, which normally have balanced activity in both these brain areas. Results showed that by imbalancing these two brain regions, the rats' ability to learn behavior control was delayed.

"Understanding how specific changes in brain function during development relate to behavior is critically important for determining why some individuals engage in excessive risk taking behavior during adolescence," said David J. Bucci, senior author of the study, according to Science Daily.

"Our hope is that these findings will inform new means to minimize the potential for engaging in drug use and other harmful behaviors during this important period of development,” Bucci explained.
 

Source: Meyer HC, Bucci DJ.Imbalanced Activity In The Orbitofrontal Cortex And Nucleus Accumbens Impairs Behavioral Inhibition. Current Biology. 2016.

Read more:

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Teens' Risky Behavior May Result From Imbalances In Brains' Emotional Networks, Scans Show

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