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 GoodTherapy.org.
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