Exciting, Novel Experience-Seeking By Teens Misunderstood.

In Brain Development, Brain General Structure and Function, Brain Science, Memory and Learning by Brainy Days Ahead

Exciting experiences sought by young people are being misinterpreted as impulsive or risky behavior. This is the conclusion of new research by scientists at the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania. At one time teenage behavior was explained by raging hormones. Most recently the behavior has been attributed to slow development of the prefrontal cortex and its weak connectivity with brain reward regions. In this new research, scientists consider the implications of different kinds of risk taking. Teens engage in sensation-seeking due to a heightened attraction to novel and exciting experiences which peaks during adolescence. Nonetheless, teens who exhibit sensation-seeking alone are not necessarily more likely to engage in substance use or gambling addiction. Instead, the scientists found that the rise in teens’ levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine, a potential driver of sensation seeking, also supports the brain’s ability to exert greater control and to learn from experience.  As one study author explained, “The reason teens are doing all of this exploring and novelty seeking is to build experience so that they can do a better job in making the difficult and risky decisions in later life.