Study suggests teen brain is more sensitive to rewards than adult brain

by Bob Yirka report
brain
MRI brain scan

(Medical Xpress)—Emily Barkley-Levensona and Adriana Galvána, psychology researchers at the University of California have conducted a study which indicates that teen brains, as suspected, truly are more sensitive to rewards than the adult brain. In their paper they've had published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the two describe experiments they conducted with teen and adult volunteers playing betting games while undergoing MRI scans.

Many studies have been done that back up what parents have been claiming for years, namely, that teen brains react differently to a rewarding stimulus, in general, than do adult brains—in short, they tend to react more strongly. One problem with testing such a claim in the lab, however, the researchers in this effort point out, is that many such tests are based on the use of money as a stimulus. The problem with that is that teens may value money more than adults as a general rule because they have less of it. Thus, to truly learn if the teen brain is more sensitive to reward stimuli, a means must be found to factor out such a possibility.

In their study, the research duo enlisted the assistance of nineteen healthy adult and twenty two healthy teen of both genders. Each was asked to participate in gambling games as they underwent MRI scans. The gambling games were based on , but to prevent the perceived value of money itself from exerting undue influence, the researchers explained that all monetary transactions would be quite small, that all participants would be given the same amount of initial capital, and that potential winnings would be no more than $20.

The gambling game itself consisted of making bets on outcomes that had a 50/50 change of winning or losing, thus no skill was involved. Volunteers were able to bet whatever amount they chose so long as they could cover it with the cash they were given.

As the volunteers played the betting games, the researchers watched activity levels in parts of the volunteers' brains known to be involved in responding to positive stimulation (the , etc.). The researchers noted more activity in such areas in the brains of the teens than in the as the betting transpired. They also noted that teens tended to risk more with their betting.

The results of their experiment suggests, the researchers report, that teen brains truly are wired differently than are adult brains and as a result are more sensitive to rewards.

More information: "Neural representation of expected value in the adolescent brain," by Emily Barkley-Levenson and Adriana Galván. PNAS, www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1319762111

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Brain scans reveal differences in regret as people age

Apr 20, 2012

(Medical Xpress) -- New research using brains scans shows that many elderly people have over time either learned to not stew over things they regret or to not regret them at all. Those that don’t learn such skills tend ...

Recommended for you

Mothers don't speak so clearly to their babies

Jan 23, 2015

People have a distinctive way of talking to babies and small children: We speak more slowly, using a sing-song voice, and tend to use cutesy words like "tummy". While we might be inclined to think that we ...

Explainer: What is sexual fluidity?

Jan 23, 2015

Sexual preferences are not set in stone and can change over time, often depending on the immediate situation the individual is in. This has been described as sexual fluidity. For example, if someone identifies as heterosexual but th ...

Lucky charms: When are superstitions used most?

Jan 23, 2015

It might be a lucky pair of socks, or a piece of jewelry; whatever the item, many people turn to a superstition or lucky charm to help achieve a goal. For instance, you used a specific avatar to win a game and now you see ...

Low-income boys fare worse in wealth's shadow

Jan 22, 2015

Low-income boys fare worse, not better, when they grow up alongside more affluent neighbors, according to new findings from Duke University. In fact, the greater the economic gap between the boys and their neighbors, the ...

User comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.