Greater Susceptibility to Emotions, Environment May Help Explain Adolescent Behavior

The period of adolescence is often described as being one of the most confusing and difficult –and, sometimes, enjoyable– stages of life, and tends to feature new and sometimes troubling behaviors, accompanied by a whirlwind of thoughts and feelings that can prompt some parents to worry. There are many explanations as to why teenagers act differently as compared to other age groups, many of which focus on the hormones and other aspects of puberty. But a recent study performed at the University of Pittsburgh has found that a significant vulnerability to environment and feelings may play a major role in these age-based differences.

To study the differences in adolescent and adult behaviors, the researchers used a group of laboratory rats, some of which were teenagers, while others were adults. The rats were trained to respond a certain way to a light stimulus by being rewarded for the desired behavior with sugar. After the behavior was suitably adopted, the team revoked the sweet reward, and divided the rats further into groups which were given different food amounts between sessions, or were exposed differently to the same light stimulus. The researchers found that the adolescent rats, particularly those which may have been stressed due to a lower amount of food available between sessions, were significantly more likely to engage in the trained behavior than their adult counterparts.

The behavior lasted well after the adults had stopped trying to obtain the sugar, suggesting that the adolescents were exhibiting impulsive and irrational behavior. Though the researchers note that further research should be completed to more fully examine the potential connections between susceptibility to environment and subsequent behaviors –particularly those involving risk-taking– they propose that the work can help shed light on how different stimuli, from advertisements to personal relationship issues, may affect teens.

© Copyright 2010 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Bethany


    February 26th, 2010 at 3:37 PM

    As a teenager you have so many hormones and emotions that it would be crazy not to be more angst ridden and tough to deal with than at other times in your life. Everything is changing so dramatically and you don’t know what to do with all of that raw energy and excessive mood swings. And people don’t know what to do with you in return! But no matter how many different studies are done to deal with this matter that is not going to make things any easier for the teens to deal or for adults to deal with them. It is all a matter of finding the right balance and finding a way to trudge through those tough years and come out the other end intact.

  • susan george

    susan george

    February 26th, 2010 at 9:48 PM

    teens are split between being children and adults,..they are not sure about what they are…some things are still restricted to them, like for kids,..where as other responsibilitites are explained to them, like to adults… good parenting combined with talking session explaining them about it will lead to a better teen-era for all of them.

  • Olivia


    February 27th, 2010 at 7:50 AM

    My teen son is a whirlwind of emotions right now and sometimes I wonder how I will ever get through these years. Thanks for giving me some light at the end of this dark tunnel.

  • jane R

    jane R

    February 27th, 2010 at 11:02 AM

    there is just so much conflict inside an adolescent’s mind…they have questions they are seeking answers to…they want to discover things, they encounter newer things everyday that they never knew existed…there is just so much happening for them…it is easy to just shout at them for their ways and behavior but trust me, being matured ourselves as parents will lead to them developing into much better individuals than if we shout at them.

  • OJ


    February 28th, 2010 at 5:05 AM

    Have you observed how even the smallest of things said to these youngsters are taken in a way other than we meant it, and they often take offence…? Well this is just because they are thinking in a way different from us and want nobody to control them or even say anything to them or restrict them…this is because they are discovering newer things everyday and just need supplementing it rather than trying to guide them, they will reject it.

  • larry


    February 28th, 2010 at 2:28 PM

    what they need is love and affection and not strict rules and night curfew…sometimes just the way we speak and the words we use, while conveying the same thing, can have a drastic effect on teens…even if we are saying the same thing, if said in a calculated and in a way that suits them they would listen.

  • Lewis Berry

    Lewis Berry

    February 28th, 2010 at 4:35 PM

    it is great to see that studies are being undertaken to understand and interpret as to why teens’ and adolescents’ behavior is just so different and hard to explain for all other age groups… this will help us have better relationships with youngsters, as the relationship between an adolescent and his/her parent has never been without a conflict.

  • Mariana S

    Mariana S

    March 1st, 2010 at 1:18 PM

    understanding the things that our teen kids go through is a very good thing to do as it will help us in being their friends in their adolescent years, which will in turn protect them , rather than the strict guidelines that most parents give their adolescent kids…

  • Kayla


    March 1st, 2010 at 2:17 PM

    Parents are so dismissive of adolescents and do not want to deal with what they are going through. I guess that somehow makes them think that everything will be ok, but this is when kids need their parents the most. Adolescents need care and guidance at this age because there IS so much going on within and many parents want to take a time out rather than deal with the hormones. Bad timing indeed for that.

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