Though teens represent just 14% of the population, they account for about 30% of the costs of car accident injuries, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2011, 2,650 teens died in car accidents, with 292,000 treated in emergency rooms for injuries sustained in car accidents.
Understanding how the brain responds to the risks and rewards of driving may help parents better train their teens to be safe drivers. A new study published in Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience has found that teens’ brains may respond differently to risk when a parent is in the car.
How Parents’ Presence Changes Teen Drivers’ Brains
Researchers asked 14-year-olds to complete a simulated driving task while functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machines tracked blood flow in the teens’ brains. In one trial, teens “drove” alone, but in another trial, teens’ mothers watched them “drive.”
Researchers found that teens who performed the driving task alone had increased blood flow to the ventral striatum when they ran a yellow light. This brain region is more sensitive to rewarding stimuli during adolescence than at any other time. This suggests that risk taking may feel especially rewarding to teens.
A parent’s presence, though, could mitigate the rewarding sensations associated with risk taking. When a teen’s mother was present as he or she ran a yellow light, there was no increase in blood flow to the ventral striatum. The decreased reward associated with risk taking also gave teens less incentive to take risks. Teens hit their brakes at yellow lights more frequently when their mothers were present.
A brain region associated with cognitive control, the prefrontal cortex, also showed more activity when a parent watched. This suggests that the presence of a parent can encourage a teen to exhibit more control over his or her behavior.
Overall, a parent’s presence reduced a teen’s rate of risk taking from 55% to 45%.
- Teen drivers: Get the facts. (2014, October 07). Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/motorvehiclesafety/teen_drivers/teendrivers_factsheet.html
- This is your teen’s brain behind the wheel. (2015, April 22). Retrieved from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/04/150422122029.htm
© Copyright 2015 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved.
The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.