Teenage exploration and risk taking could be explained by dramatic changes in the brain that allow elaborate planning, according to new research.
A neuroscientist at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine also found that teenage brains are driven by the need for immediate rewards.
“Our studies are beginning to challenge the traditional concept that the teenage brain can’t plan because of an immature prefrontal cortex,” said Beatriz Luna, Ph.D., a professor of psychiatry and pediatrics.
“Our findings indicate that the teen prefrontal cortex is not much different than in the adult, but it can be easily overruled by heightened motivation centers in the brain. You have this mixture of newly gained executive control, plus extra reward, that is pulling the teenager toward immediate gratification.”
Using a model in which eye movements, or saccades, reveal insight into executive brain function, Luna studied hundreds of young volunteers to examine brain development during the transition between childhood and adulthood.