Research Begins to Explain Adolescent Impulsive Behavior 

Everyone makes bad decisions, adults, adolescents, it’s not uncommon to choose the wrong path every once in a while. According to a recent article by The Atlantic discussed new research that studied why the brain leads to adolescent impulsive behavior and making bad decisions.

Recent Experiments on Impulsive Behavior

In a recent experiment, Paul Glimcher, a neuroscientist at New York University, and collaborators asked people to choose among a variety of candy bars, including their favorite. Say their favorite was a Milky Way, if offered a Milky Way, a Snickers, and an Almond Joy, participants would always choose the Milky Way. But if they were offered 20 candy bars, including a Milky Way, the choice became less clear. Participants would sometimes pick something other than the Milky Way, even though it was still their favorite. When researches would remove all the choices except the Milky Way and the selected candy, participants would wonder why they hadn’t chosen their favorite.

Understanding how the Brain Makes Decisions

Hundreds of studies have been conducted on adolescent impulsive behavior, but researchers are still not sure why certain people would choose another candy over their favorite. In the last 15 to 20 years, neuroscientists have begun to directly evaluate areas of the brain in search of answers. Angela Yu, a theoretical neuroscientist at the University of California, San Diego states:

“Knowing something about how information is represented in the brain and the computational principles of the brain helps you understand why people make decisions how they do.”

Glimcher is using both the brain and behavior to explain irrationality and adolescent impulsive behavior. He has combined data from studies like the candy bar experiment with neuroscience data—measurements of electrical activity in the brains of animals as they make decisions—to develop a theory of how we make decisions and why that can lead to adolescent impulsive behavior.

The Results

Researchers believe that the brain processes decisions based on the reaction of a single neuron. The more attractive a choice is, the faster the neuron fires. When someone is given the choice between their favorite candy bar and a candy bar that is not as appealing, the neuron is going to fire rapidly for their favorite and slowly for the option not as appealing. When a person is shown 20 candy bars and their favorite the neuron response becomes more balanced, making it harder for a person to decide and leading to adolescent impulsive behavior.

While there are still many questions that need to be answer in regards to adolescent impulsive behavior, researchers hope that this research is a step in the right direction to better understanding how individual make decisions.

If you or your child are struggling with adolescent impulsive behavior issues, there are programs available that can help.

Elevations RTC can help

Elevations RTC is a leading residential treatment center for teens, ages 13 to 18, grappling with anxiety, depression, substance use, and other emotional or behavioral issues. As a residential treatment center for teens, we try to go above and beyond other RTC’s by having not only one on-site psychiatrist, but two practitioners who see each student weekly. We also have an academic component that uses an accredited curriculum and licensed/credentialed teachers. With all of this, we strive to give each student the most efficient and beneficial experience possible.

For more information about Elevations RTC, please call today!


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