Teen Anxiety May Be Due to Developing Brains

New research suggests that teens may be at a higher risk for anxiety due to their immature brains. In a study led by Jennifer Lau, Ph. D., of Oxford University, a team of researchers showed both adults and teens threatening and non-threatening pictures. The adults and teens all responded by expressing feelings of fear when viewing the threatening pictures. However, the teens in the study were not able to clearly distinguish the difference between the threatening and non-threatening pictures.

The researchers observed the amount of activity that was present in the subjects’ brains through the use of MRI’s (magnetic resonance imaging). They assessed both the hippocampus region, which is the area of the brain that develops and logs memories, and the right side of the region known as the amygdala, which is where the fear and reaction of fight or flight response is created. They examined the brain activity found in the test subjects while they viewed the pictures. The results showed that the teens had more activity in both of these regions when they were exposed to threatening stimuli. But the adults MRIs revealed more brain activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), which is the region of the brain responsible for categorizing and grouping objects. The results lead researchers to believe that the adult test subjects utilized the DLPFC in order to determine if the pictures were a threat or not, while the teens immediately responded with fear and anxiety.

Because the DLPFC is an area of the brain that is developed later in adulthood, younger brains rely on the regions that are available to them when confronted with a perceived threat. As they mature, the reasoning and categorizing regions become more developed and adult brains are able to rely on the DLPFC rather than the fight or flight responses alone.

© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

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.

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  • trey


    May 6th, 2011 at 2:59 PM

    It certainly does make sense that once the brain is more developed then teens and young adults will have more to rely upon for helping them cope with the situations that come their way. That I get. What I do not get are the adults in their lives who act like their kids have gone crazy when we all know good and well that this is exactly how we dealt with things too when we were teenagers! It is like we completely forget that once we were in their shoes and that things really do get better. But patience is a key to making all fo this work out and without exercising some of this then there are bound to be more issues.

  • alice


    May 6th, 2011 at 7:15 PM

    goes out to show that teenagers’ behavior should not just be pushed under a single umbrella of ‘reckless’ or anything but they should be handled with care.they think they have grown up,that they are adults.but they are not adults mentally,they are yet to grow up completely and the parents and teachers can really help them get through this phase.

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