behavior

Why ‘Don’t Even Start’ Doesn’t Work With Teenagers

Researcher David Bucci flips the neural switches to replicate an “adolescent brain.”

January 10, 2017 by Bill Platt
Originally published in the Dartmouth News.

As parents of a teenager can tell you, adolescents don’t always think about risks before they act, whether it is venturing onto thin ice on a dare or spending the weekend watching an entire Star Wars marathon before starting a project that’s due Monday.

For many years psychologists and researchers have observed this behavior and linked it to data showing that the part of the brain that regulates impulsivity—the prefrontal cortex—is not yet fully developed in adolescents, while the deeper reward-seeking part of the brain, called the nucleus accumbens, develops more rapidly, leaving teens with less control over impulses.

Now Dartmouth researchers have identified and altered the precise neural circuits that control reward-seeking impulses and risk-assessment controls, effectively flipping the switches to create an “adolescent brain” in adult rats.