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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Emerging Science Note/It’s Not Only Hormones

Air Date: Week of September 8, 2006

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A recent study shows that teenagers are less likely than adults to use the region of the brain involved in thinking about other people’s emotions and feelings when making decisions. Tobin Hack reports.

Transcript

HACK: Other people’s feelings don’t matter much to teenagers, at least according to London’s Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience. The institute conducted MRI scans on both teenagers and adults, while asking them a series of questions such as, “a girl just had an argument with her best friend. How does she feel?” and “How would you feel if you were not allowed to go to your friend’s party?” The results show that teenagers are far less likely than adults to use the region of the brain involved in thinking about other people’s feelings and emotions.

Some areas of the brain continue to develop well past adolescence, and one of these is the medial prefrontal cortex. It’s located at the front of the brain, and is responsible for higher level thinking, like empathy, guilt, and understanding other people’s actions. The study found that when teenagers make decisions about how to act, the front of the brain is hardly used. Instead, they make decisions using a posterior part of the brain that predicts future actions based on past actions. So when teenagers are deciding what to do, they’re less likely to think about how their actions will make other people feel.

If adults are better at putting themselves in others’ shoes though, it may be partly because they’ve had years more social experience on which to base their actions and decisions. In any case, it’s clear that puberty is not only a time for massive hormonal change, but for significant neurological change as well.

That’s this week’s note on emerging science. I’m Tobin Hack.

 

 

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