Features Of Adolescent Brain

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The ways in which teenagers behave is partially affected by their peers. Teenagers are unlikely to make decisions on their own, and this is due to their brain pattern changing and maturing. Adolescence is a period of time in a teenagers’ brain whereby significant growth and development occurs. During this period of time, changes such as the thinking and processing part of the brain is changing, and maturing. During this period of time, Adolescents behaviors are influenced by their peers, and as a result have an effect on their behavior. This essay will discuss peer influence of adolescent behavior, biological basis of adolescent behavior, as well as risk taking.

Peer Influences on Adolescent Behavior

Adolescence is a time period in a teenagers’ life whereby their brain is significantly growing and developing. Because of this, teenagers tend to become easily influenced by their peers. Based on studies conducted, observational data point to peer influence as a primary factor contributing to adolescents’ heightened tendency to make risky decisions (Albert, 2013). Adolescents have been found to have a change in behaviour when interacting with their peers, in comparison to when they’re alone. When you put an adolescent with their friends, their brain pattern and behaviour changes. According to Laurence Steinberg, of Temple University, brain pattern change happens in the ventral striatum. When young people are alone, the ventral striatum is quiet, however, when they associate with their peers, the ventral striatum lights up, usually resulting in heightened emotions and heightened tendency to take risks. It was found that adolescents were more likely to commit crime, or abuse alcohol and drugs in groups and social settings, rather than alone, due to the pressure they feel when interacting with their friends.

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An experiment was conducted by Laurence Steinberg, and Jason Chein, to find out how the adolescent brain works alone, and how it works when interacting with other people (peers). For the experiment, a young boy was brought in and told to play a video driving game, whilst in an MRI machine. When the boy played the driving game alone, he took less risks, and therefore had less crashes. When the boy was told that his friends are watching him play from a different room, he took more risks, which resulted in him crashing more than he did when alone. This experiment proved that being watched by friends elevates adolescents’ risk taking. The presence of peers affects patterns of brain activity differently among adolescents and adults (Steinberg, 2011). Peer pressure can be both a good thing and a bad thing. Teens can be peer pressured to do better in things such as sports and academics, however they can be easily pressured into doing the wrong things namely sex at a young age, alcohol and drugs, which is why it is important to teach adolescents ways in which to avoid peer pressure and encourage them to think for themselves. In an educational setting, teenagers should be taught to practice saying no. They must know that they can say no if they don’t want to do something, that it wont make them ‘not cool’ if they don’t. Another thing teenagers should be taught is to remove themselves from a situation, which they do not feel comfortable in. They should remove themselves from the ‘pressure zone’. Another example of how teens can avoid pressure, is for them to find a friend or friends who share the same values as them. In that way, they are avoiding the pressure directly.

Biological Basis of Adolescent Behaviour

There are a number of key inter-related ideas associated with the biological basis of the adolescent brain, such as the social – emotional system and cognitive control system, as well as different rates of maturation.

Adolescence is a time full of changes and mental and emotional transformations. This transformation from childhood to adulthood involves gonadal and behavioral maturation (Arain, 2013). The maturation of the adolescent brain is influence by genetics, environment and sex hormones. These play an important role in myelination, which important for the functioning of the central nervous system functioning. Glutamatergic neurotransmission predominates, whereas gamma-aminobutyric acid neurotransmission remains under construction, and this might be responsible for immature and impulsive behaviour and neurobehavioral excitement during adolescent life (Arain, 2013). Adolescents are vulnerable to drive under the influence or abuse drugs, due to the limbic system having not fully matured, as well as the prefrontal cortex.

Because the brain of an adolescent is in transition, the regions in the brain are undergoing developmental changes in the pre frontal cortex , the forebrain regions, as well as the stressor sensitive regions (Spear LP, 2002). When an adolescent is undergoing emotional transition, their emotions are unpredictable. They tend to have strong and intense emotions. This is because their brain is undergoing change and maturing in order for them to think and express themselves in a more ‘adult’ manner.

Adolescents are known to act out impulsively, de to the maturation of their brain, however the impulses can be put on hold if certain fibers in the higher part of the brain work to create a space between impulse and action. During adolescence, the regulatory fibers begin to grow to counteract the increased dopamine. This is called cognitive control (Siegel, 2014). This reduces risks and danger, as it allows adolescents to think before they act.

Teenagers begin to undergo social-emotional development during adolescence. Social-emotional development refers to a gradual process through which teens acquire the ability to think for themselves and make decisions for themselves, as well as know who they are and what they are feeling, and how to manage it. Social – emotional development is very important as it teaches teens how to interact with others, as well as to manage their own emotions in a social setting, whether it be anger, excitement, frustration, etc. Children can be taught how to control their emotions, and be taught not to bully others, because at that stage in their life, due to the heightened emotions, they act impulsively and can say and do the wrong things without thinking it through.

Risk Taking

The brain is a group of cells that communicate with one another using chemicals known as neurotransmitters. During adolescence, there is a significant rise in the activity of the neural circuits, using dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter central in creating driver for reward. During adolescence, there is an increase in dopamine release, which results in adolescents to wanting to gravitate towards thrilling experiences and sensations (Siegel, 2014). Because of this, young people are more prone to risk taking than adults. Dopamine is released during thrilling experiences, resulting in them acting out impulsively.

During adolescence, the prefrontal cortex of the brain is still undergoing development, and thus teenagers rely on the amygdala part of the brain to make decisions. Because of this, they experience heightened emotions, show signs of aggression and act on impulse (Arain, 2013). Risk taking can either be a good thing or bad thing, when it comes to adolescents. It could be a positive thing, if the teen is taking risks in regard to their academics and sports, or even socially. Some teens who have social anxiety, take the risk of actually going out and interacting with their peers, this is an example of a positive risk. However, teenagers are very prone to make bad decisions during adolescence, as they act impulsively and only think of the consequences later. The risk taking includes driving under the influence, binge drinking, substance abuse and sexual behavior.


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