Teenage Brains – Interesting reading

Below are my highlighted sections from a National Geographic article about the teenage brain and how it has evolved to crave the company of peers and take risks. 

So much more out there. Here’s a link to more: http://goo.gl/u4ItD.

Also read: http://diigo.com/0ksxe, which is my annotated link from this article: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/world/structural-changes-in-teenage-brains-causes-dramatic-shifts-in-intelligence/story-e6frg6so-1226171382504.

Both links courtesy of our Head of PD!

Teenage Brains – Pictures, More From National Geographic Magazine

    • To see past the distracting, dopey teenager and glimpse the adaptive  adolescent within, we should look not at specific, sometimes startling,  behaviors, such as skateboarding down stairways or dating fast company, but at  the broader traits that underlie those acts.

    • Seeking sensation isn’t necessarily impulsive. You might plan a  sensation-seeking experience—a skydive or a fast drive—quite deliberately, as my  son did. Impulsivity generally drops throughout life, starting at about age 10,  but this love of the thrill peaks at around age 15.
    • And although sensation seeking can lead to dangerous behaviors, it can also  generate positive ones: The urge to meet more people, for instance, can create a  wider circle of friends, which generally makes us healthier, happier, safer, and  more successful.
    • Also peaking during adolescence (and perhaps aggrieving the ancientry the  most) is risk-taking. We court risk more avidly as teens than at any other time.  This shows reliably in the lab, where teens take more chances in controlled  experiments involving everything from card games to simulated driving. And it  shows in real life, where the period from roughly 15 to 25 brings peaks in all  sorts of risky ventures and ugly outcomes. This age group dies of accidents of  almost every sort (other than work accidents) at high rates. Most long-term drug  or alcohol abuse starts during adolescence, and even people who later drink  responsibly often drink too much as teens. Especially in cultures where teenage  driving is common, this takes a gory toll: In the U.S., one in three teen deaths  is from car crashes, many involving alcohol.

    • Are these kids just being stupid? That’s the conventional explanation:  They’re not thinking, or by the work-in-progress model, their puny developing  brains fail them.


      Yet these explanations don’t hold up. 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.

    • “They didn’t take more chances because they suddenly downgraded the risk,”  says Steinberg. “They did so because they gave more weight to the payoff.”

    • Researchers such as Steinberg and Casey believe this risk-friendly weighing  of cost versus reward has been selected for because, over the course of human  evolution, the willingness to take risks during this period of life has granted  an adaptive edge. Succeeding often requires moving out of the home and into less  secure situations. “The more you seek novelty and take risks,” says Baird, “the  better you do.” This responsiveness to reward thus works like the desire for new  sensation: It gets you out of the house and into new turf.

    • teens respond strongly to social rewards. Physiology and evolutionary theory  alike offer explanations for this tendency. Physiologically, adolescence brings  a peak in the brain’s sensitivity to dopamine, a neurotransmitter that appears  to prime and fire reward circuits and aids in learning patterns and making  decisions. This helps explain the teen’s quickness of learning and extraordinary  receptivity to reward—and his keen, sometimes melodramatic reaction to success  as well as defeat.
    • This helps explain another trait that marks adolescence: Teens prefer the  company of those their own age more than ever before or after. At one level,  this passion for same-age peers merely expresses in the social realm the teen’s  general attraction to novelty: Teens offer teens far more novelty than familiar  old family does.

    • Yet teens gravitate toward peers for another, more powerful reason: to invest  in the future rather than the past. We enter a world made by our parents. But we  will live most of our lives, and prosper (or not) in a world run and remade by  our peers. Knowing, understanding, and building relationships with them bears  critically on success. Socially savvy rats or monkeys, for instance, generally  get the best nesting areas or territories, the most food and water, more allies,  and more sex with better and fitter mates. And no species is more intricately  and deeply social than humans are.

    • Some brain-scan studies, in fact, suggest that our brains react to peer  exclusion much as they respond to threats to physical health or food supply. At  a neural level, in other words, we perceive social rejection as a threat to  existence. Knowing this might make it easier to abide the hysteria of a  13-year-old deceived by a friend or the gloom of a 15-year-old not invited to a  party. These people! we lament. They react to social ups and downs as if their  fates depended upon them! They’re right. They do.
    • That’s doubtless why these traits, broadly defined, seem to show themselves in  virtually all human cultures, modern or tribal.
    • But anthropologists have found that virtually all the world’s cultures recognize  adolescence as a distinct period in which adolescents prefer novelty,  excitement, and peers. This near-universal recognition sinks the notion that  it’s a cultural construct.
    • Culture clearly shapes adolescence. It influences its expression and possibly  its length. It can magnify its manifestations. Yet culture does not create  adolescence. The period’s uniqueness rises from genes and developmental  processes that have been selected for over thousands of generations because they  play an amplified role during this key transitional period: producing a creature  optimally primed to leave a safe home and move into unfamiliar territory.

    • The move outward from home is the most difficult thing that humans do, as  well as the most critical—not just for individuals but for a species that has  shown an unmatched ability to master challenging new environments. In scientific  terms, teenagers can be a pain in the ass. But they are quite possibly the most  fully, crucially adaptive human beings around. Without them, humanity might not  have so readily spread across the globe.

    • Studies show that when parents engage and guide their teens with a light but  steady hand, staying connected but allowing independence, their kids generally  do much better in life.
    • Adolescents want to learn primarily, but not entirely, from their friends.

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.