PITTSBURGHWhile the otherworldly behavior of teenagers is well documented, University of Pittsburgh researchers have taken a significant step toward finally unraveling the actual brain activity that can drive adolescents to engage in impulsive, self-indulgent, or self-destructive behavior. Published in the current edition of Behavioral Neuroscience, the Pitt study demonstrates that adolescent brains are more sensitive to internal and environmental factors than adult brains and suggests that the teenage tendency to experiment with drugs and develop psychological disorders could stem from this susceptibility.
Lead researcher Bita Moghaddam, a professor in the Department of Neuroscience in Pitt's School of Arts and Sciences, said that although the exact mechanics of the adolescent brain's reaction need further investigation, the current study is a starting point in mapping the neural path from stimuli to behavior in the adolescent brain. Pitt neuroscience doctoral student David Sturman was the Behavioral Neuroscience report's lead author, conducting the study with Moghaddam and Pitt research assistant Daniel Mandell. The project was supported by the National Institute of Mental Health.
"Adolescence is a period of volatility and vulnerability with tendencies toward interpersonal conflict, emotional reactivity, and risk behavior, but we know very little about the brain mechanisms that promote this state," Moghaddam said. "We want to know how the adolescent brain interacts with the environment at the brain-cell level, when the neural signals are firing. Once we identify how certain factors trigger teenage behavior, we might better understandand possibly addressthe origin of the risk taking and psychological disorders such as depression and schizophrenia that occur during this period."
The researchers trained adolescent and adult rats to respond to a visual light cue by rewarding them with sugar pellets. Previous research has shown that ado
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University of Pittsburgh