Decisions and stress and adolescents

June 21, 2011 by Miles O'Brien, National Science Foundation
Decisions and stress and adolescents
Credit: © 2010 Jupiterimages Corporation/ NSF

Stressing out about a boyfriend or girlfriend or history test is part of a typical day for a teenager. But what is making these insignificant events seem like the end of the world?

With help from the National Science Foundation (NSF), Adriana Galván, a psychologist at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), has been studying the effects of on teenagers and adults.

"Teenagers experience stress as more stressful," says Galván, "and if that stress is interfering with their decision making, it's really important to understand the neural mechanism that's underlying this connection between high levels of stress and poor decision making."

Galván's ground-breaking study focuses on the effect stress has on function. Study participants report their stress level daily, using a one to seven scale--seven being the worst. If participants rate their day as a seven, Galván will ask them to visit the lab for tests.

Nilufer Rustomji, an 18-year-old participant of the study, rates her day's stress level as a seven. Monitoring her brain function with Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), Galván asks Rustomji to play a simple "reward and risk" video game, which involves wagering money.

"During the game, Rustomji is evaluating risk," explains Galván, "and while she's doing that evaluation, we are taking pictures of the brain to see how the brain makes [such] risky choices."

After computer processing the images, Galván analyzes how stress and risk influence what she calls the "reward system."

"The teenagers show more activation in the reward system than adults when making risky choices, and they are also making more risky choices than adults are," says Galván.

The prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain that helps regulate behavior but in , this region is not fully developed.

To help lower teens' stress, Galván says teens should double check and think about how the consequences will affect them later. "When you are stressed out as a , it's interfering with your ability to make decisions," says Galván. "It's interfering with how the brain functions in regions that are still developing, mainly the reward system and the prefrontal cortex."

Galván's study is helping to provide deeper insight into why teenagers often act the way they do.

Explore further: Chernobyl's radioactivity reduced the populations of birds of orange plumage

Related Stories

Chernobyl's radioactivity reduced the populations of birds of orange plumage

April 26, 2011
On April 26, 1986, history's greatest nuclear accident took place northwest of the Ukrainian city of Chernobyl. Despite the scale of the disaster, 25 years later, we still do not know its real effects. An international ...

Study finds presence of peers heightens teens' sensitivity to rewards of a risk

January 28, 2011
and that when they do, they like to have company. Teens are five times more likely to be in a car accident when in a group than when driving alone, and they are more likely to commit a crime in a group.

Stress affects older adults more than young adults

October 28, 2008
Life can be stressful, whether you're an individual watching the stock market crash or a commuter stuck in traffic. A new study, forthcoming in the journal Psychological Science, examines how stress affects decision-making ...

People Use Separate Brain Mechanisms to Make Ambiguous and Risky Choices

March 2, 2006
Distinct regions of the human brain are activated when people are faced with ambiguous choices versus choices involving only risk, Duke University Medical Center researchers have discovered.

Should I stay or should I go? Neural mechanisms of strategic decision making

May 27, 2009
A new study demonstrates that when faced with a difficult decision, the human brain calls upon multiple neural systems that code for different sorts of behaviors and strategies. The research, published by Cell Press in the ...

From stress to financial mess: Study suggests acute stress affects financial decision making

April 1, 2009
It is not surprising that as our economy continues its freefall, we are feeling increasingly more stressed and worried. Many of us are feeling extreme unease about the security of our jobs and being able to make our next ...

Recommended for you

Study shows how bias can influence people estimating the ages of other people

October 17, 2018
A trio of researchers from the University of New South Wales and Western Sydney University has discovered some of the factors involved when people make errors in estimating the ages of other people. In their paper published ...

Infants are more likely to learn when with a peer

October 16, 2018
Infants are more likely to learn from on-screen instruction when paired with another infant as opposed to viewing the lesson alone, according to a new study.

Researchers use brain cells in a dish to study genetic origins of schizophrenia

October 16, 2018
A study in Biological Psychiatry has established a new analytical method for investigating the complex genetic origins of mental illnesses using brain cells that are grown in a dish from human embryonic stem cells. Researchers ...

Income and wealth affect the mental health of Australians, study shows

October 16, 2018
Australians who have higher incomes and greater wealth are more likely to experience better mental health throughout their lives, new research led by the Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre has found.

Study suggests biological basis for depression, anxiety, sleep disturbances in older adults

October 15, 2018
UC San Francisco researchers, in collaboration with the unique Brazilian Biobank for Aging Studies (BBAS) at the University of São Paulo, have shown that the earliest stages of the brain degeneration associated with Alzheimer's ...

Linguistic red flags from Facebook posts can predict future depression diagnoses

October 15, 2018
In any given year, depression affects more than 6 percent of the adult population in the United States—some 16 million people—but fewer than half receive the treatment they need. What if an algorithm could scan social ...

0 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.