The Washington Post:
Teenagers can do the craziest things. They drive at high speeds. They stand around outside loud parties and smoke weed in front of cops. They guzzle liquor. They insult their parents — or lie to them — and feel no remorse, because, of course, their parents are idiots.
It is easy to blame peer pressure or willfulness, but scientific studies suggest that at least some of this out-there behavior has a physiological tie-in: Brain mapping technologies show that the average teenager’s brain looks slightly different from an adult’s. The biggest differences lie in the prefrontal cortex — a part of the brain associated with reasoning — and in the networks of brain cells that link the cortex to regions of the brain that are less about reasoning and thinking and more about emotion.
Research that Steinberg and colleagues published in January showed that when adolescents are in the presence of peers, what is known as the reward circuitry in the brain is more activated than when adults are with their peers.
Neurological images “are powerful, but images are not causes” of behavior, says Tomas Paus, a professor of psychology and psychiatry at the University of Toronto, who has authored research papers with Steinberg but is more skeptical of overarching interpretations. “The causes are in our genes and our environment. The image is just a manifestation of those causes.”
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