A project of the Child Trends News Service supported by the National Science Foundation

Brain Training For Risk-Taking Teens

PHILADELPHIA, Pa. (Ivanhoe Newswire) — Neuroscientists studying the teenage brain say that when a teen is surrounded by peers, he or she is more likely to push the boundaries and take chances. Researchers say that parents and their teens can take certain steps to reduce risk-taking behavior.

Andrew McWilliams goes big when he’s skateboarding, if there’s an audience.

It’s no surprise to Jason Chein, PhD, a cognitive neuroscientist at Temple University in Philadelphia. Researchers at Temple University’s Brain Research and Imaging Center monitored teens while performing a computerized stoplight task. Teens had to drive a car on a straight stretch of roadway and decide whether or not to stop at a yellow light. The goal was to finish the course as fast as possible, while trying not to crash. Researchers used the intercom to tell teens they had friends nearby watching and making predictions about their performance. During the task, researchers saw activation in two regions of the teens’ brains that process rewards.

“In and of itself it says to parents even a good teen, even a smart teen that has good information about their behavior, is likely to behave differently when they’re in the presence of their friends or when they think they’re in a social environment,” explained Chein.

Temple scientists also had teens ages 13 to 17 complete memory training every day for one month, and found that those teens took fewer risks when being watched by their peers. Chein said it’s possible that memory training might help teens with self-regulation.

Chein told Ivanhoe, “They’re still waiting for their cognitive control systems to come online. But we might be able to give that system a boost.”

Professor Chein said the results of the Temple study are preliminary. He says parents should make sure they know their kid’s friends and try to limit their opportunities to engage in reckless behavior.

Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Supervising and Field Producer; Milvionne Chery, Assistant Producer; Jamison Koczan, Editor and Roque Correa, Videographer.

Produced by Child Trends News Service in partnership with Ivanhoe Broadcast News and funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation. 

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