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Posted by bio_man   January 2, 2019   1560 views

Teenagers are known for making impulsive choices and decisions. Studies of the adult brain show that risk-taking among teenagers can be narrowed down to the "feel-good" hormone dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain's reward and pleasure centers, as well as helping to regulate movement and emotional responses, see rewards and take action to move toward them.

When it comes to adolescents, neurons sensitive to dopamine are activated less when looking at the prospect of a reward compared to adults. Tests conducted on rats show that adult rats appear to obtain a small dopamine rush from simply anticipating a reward, while adolescent rats do not exhibit the same level of dopamine-based satisfaction. In terms of human behavior, teenagers rush into doing something, even when it is risky, in order to get the dopamine rush. Anticipation fails to trigger the same response as it does in adults.

Furthermore, studies shows that the preactivation of dopamine neurons pausing for a millisecond or two before doing something is missing in the adolescents, so they're activated and start seeking reward without that sort of pause that the adult brains exhibit. This explains why adolescents seem likely to repeat behaviors even when they get poor results or dire consequences. On the contrary, when adults learn that there will be no reward, their dopamine cells stop responding, but adolescent dopamine cells retain memories of past rewards.

This sort of behavior likely exists because it served as an ancient human survival mechanism. If they remembered that a certain action worked once, they could forget that it did not work another time and try it again. In terms of procuring food and finding a mate, the selective memory may have been helpful. However, in the case of adolescent brains in the present, the lowered dopamine activation can make them vulnerable to such things as drug seeking and disadvantageous risk taking.


Dopamine Teenagers Behavior Risk and Reward Rats Study
Posted in Research
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