The new research was presented at the 34th Society for Neuroscience annual meeting in San Diego.
New research--in both humans and animals--shows differences in the structure and functioning of adolescent brains compared with preadolescents or adults that correspond to such teenage behaviors as immature decision making, increased risk taking, and impulsive behaviors. As a result of this research, scientists now urge that puberty be studied as a separate stage of development--one distinctly different from the life stages of children or adults.
"Adolescents' brains seem to bias their decision-making capabilities in the direction of favoring short-term benefits, even when these benefits are weighed against potential long-term detriments," says Jonathan Cohen, MD, PhD, of the department of psychology at Princeton University.
In one study, Gregory Berns, MD, PhD, and his colleagues at Emory University School of Medicine found that hyperactivity in the reward circuits of adolescent brains compared with adult brains may underlie adolescents' immature decision making.
The researchers intermittently administered primary rewards of squirts of juice and water to adolescents aged 13 to 17 and to adults aged 30 to 50, while simultaneously viewing their brain activity with functional magnetic resonance imaging. The adolescents' brains showed significant activation in the medial prefrontal cortex and in the brainstem, near the ventral tegmentum and substantia nigra, compared with adults.