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.
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