Teens are programmed to be relaxed: Brain connections that make young people selfish also help them learn faster

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Teens can often be described as irresponsible individuals, who become incredibly aggressive when they don’t get what they want immediately.

But a new study shows that teens’ love of instant gratification can actually help improve their memory.

Researchers found that teens were better at an image-based learning game than adults when positive reinforcement was involved.

They argue that this reward sensitivity could be part of an evolutionary adaptation to learn from their environment.

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Teens can often be described as irresponsible individuals, who become incredibly aggressive when they don’t get what they want immediately. But a new study shows that teens’ love of instant gratification can actually help improve their memory. Image bank

According to the study, the brains of adolescents are wired differently than that of adults, explaining both their wild behavior and their ability to memorize.

“Teenage brains are fit, not broken,” said Dr. Juliet Davidow, co-author and psychology researcher at Harvard University.

“The imbalances in the brains of maturing adolescents that make them more sensitive to reward have a purpose: they allow adolescents to learn better from their experiences. “

Dr Davidow and his colleagues, including Professor Daphna Shohamy of the Zuckerman Institute at Columbia University, and Adriana Galván of the University of California, set out to determine whether teens’ sensitivity to reward might also help them better. learn from good or bad results.

It all comes down to the coordinated activity of two separate regions called the striatum and the hippocampus – a phenomenon unique to young people.

The striatum is the area of ​​the brain involved in the release of dopamine.

Adolescent brains showed activity in both the striatal and hippocampus regions of the brain during the learning task, while adults primarily used their striatum.

Adolescent brains showed activity in both the striatal and hippocampus regions of the brain during the learning task, while adults primarily used their striatum.

According to the study, the brains of adolescents are wired differently than that of adults, explaining both their wild behavior and their ability to memorize.

According to the study, the brains of adolescents are wired differently than that of adults, explaining both their wild behavior and their ability to memorize. “Adolescent brains are fit, not broken,” said Dr. Juliet Davidow, co-author and psychology researcher at Harvard University

HOW THE STUDY WORKS

The study of 41 adolescents and 31 adults initially focused on the striatum which controls planning, decision making and what is called reinforcement learning.

Subjects were presented with a picture of a butterfly, then a pair of pictures of flowers, and asked to guess which flower the butterfly would land on.

They could determine which flowers the butterfly would land on using trial and error.

Dr Davidow said: “In simpler terms, reinforcement learning is about guessing – being told whether you are right or wrong and using that information to guess better next time.

“Essentially, it’s a reward signal that helps the brain relearn how to repeat the successful choice.”

If participants selected the correct flower, the word “correct” would flash on their screen, and if they guessed incorrectly, it would indicate “incorrect”.

With each response, an unrelated image – for example, a watermelon or pencil – would also be displayed when the “correct” or “incorrect” label appeared.

These images were then used in a memory test to examine how well subjects remembered their surroundings during the learning process.

The study, published in the journal Neuron, found that adolescents performed better than adults in this game.

Lead author of the study, Professor Daphna Shohamy, Columbia University in New York, said, “Studies of adolescent brains often focus on the negative effects of adolescent reward-seeking behavior.

“However, we hypothesized that this trend may be related to better learning.

“Using a combination of learning and brain imaging tasks in adolescents and adults, we have identified patterns of brain activity in adolescents that support learning – serving to successfully guide them into advancing age. adult.”

The study of 41 adolescents and 31 adults initially focused on the striatum which controls planning, decision making and what is called reinforcement learning.

Subjects were presented with a picture of a butterfly, then a pair of pictures of flowers, and asked to guess which flower the butterfly would land on.

They could determine which flowers the butterfly would land on using trial and error.

Dr Davidow said: “In simpler terms, reinforcement learning is about guessing – being told whether you are right or wrong and using that information to guess better next time.

“Essentially, it’s a reward signal that helps the brain relearn how to repeat the successful choice.”

If participants selected the correct flower, the word “correct” would flash on their screen, and if they guessed incorrectly, it would say “incorrect” instead.

With each response, an unrelated image – for example, a watermelon or pencil – would also be displayed when the “correct” or “incorrect” label appeared.

These images were then used in a memory test to examine how well subjects remembered their surroundings during the learning process.

The study, published in the journal Neuron, found that adolescents performed better than adults in this game.

Brain scans of each participant as they performed learning tasks were to show that the adolescents’ superior abilities were due to an overactive striatum.

OLDER PEOPLE TAKE LESS RISK

Scientists at University College London have found that a drop in the neurotransmitter chemical makes older people more risk-averse in certain situations.

Overall, older people were not more risk averse and made no more mistakes than younger people.

The study of more than 25,000 people between the ages of 18 and 69 found that older people were less likely to choose risky bets to earn more points in a smartphone app called The Great Brain Experiment. But they were no different from the young participants when it came to choosing risky bets to avoid losing points.

While it’s widely believed that older people don’t take risks, the study showed exactly what types of risks older people avoid.

Seniors were simply less drawn to big rewards and that made them less willing to take risks in trying to get them.

Dr Davidow said: “But surprisingly, when we compared the brains of adolescents to that of adults, we found no difference in reward-related striatal activity between the two groups.

“We found that the difference between adults and adolescents was not in the striatum but in a neighboring region – the hippocampus.”

This is the memory headquarters of the brain, and further analysis has revealed more activity here for teens – but not for adults – during reinforcement learning.

In addition, this activity appeared to be closely coordinated with activity in the striatum.

To study this link, the researchers slipped random and irrelevant images of objects into the learning tasks, such as a globe or a pencil.

The images – which had no bearing on whether participants guessed right or wrong – served as a sort of background noise during the tasks.

When asked later, adults and teens recalled seeing some of the objects, but not others.

However, it was only in adolescents that object memory was associated with reinforcement learning, an observation linked to the connectivity between the hippocampus and the striatum in the adolescent brain.

“What we can take away from these results is not that adolescents necessarily have better memories, in general, but rather the way they remember is different,” said Dr Shohamy.

“By connecting two things that are not intrinsically related, the adolescent brain may be trying to better understand its surroundings during an important stage in life.”

Previous studies have shown that adolescence is a time when strong memories are formed, which the authors say may be due to this improved connectivity between the hippocampus and the striatum.

“Generally speaking, adolescence is a time when adolescents begin to develop their independence,” said Dr Shohamy.

“What more could a brain need to do during this time than jump into learning overdrive?”

“Perhaps it’s the uniqueness of adolescent brains that determines not only how they learn, but also how they use information to prepare for adulthood.”


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