Thursday, March 10, 2011

Brain grows to boost willpower in teenagers

Parents often worry about their children going bad ways when they reach adolescence but a new brain-scan study by a team led by Jennifer H. Pfeifer from the University of Oregon suggests that their willpower (or at least the part of the brain responsible for it) might actually be increasing at this time. The team studied 38 children, once when they were 10 and once when they were 13, monitoring their brain activity when they were presented with pictures of faces making neutral, angry, frightened, happy and sad expressions. Between the ages of 10 and 13 brain activity significantly increased in the ventral striatum and the ventral medial portion of the prefrontal cortex. The ventral striatum is associated with people's responses to rewards and the higher the children themselves rated their ability to resist peer influence the more activity there was in these areas. The team also noticed an increase in the brain's response to sad faces between 10 and 13 which is interesting as rates of depression often increase in adolescence.

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