The Adolescent Brain

Issue 48

If you are old enough to remember the dawn of the new Millennium, do you think back on your teenage years and blush with embarrassment about your decision-making?

Note to my teenage self: that corkscrew perm was never going to suit your hair type…Over the past two decades, neuroscience has been addressing the adolescent mind, and a variety of theories have emerged as to why teenagers behave so differently from children and fully-grown adults. An excellent TED talk by SarahJayne Blakemore – The Mysterious Workings of the Adolescent Brain – clearly explains the latest findings, as does the recently-published book The Teenage Brain by Frances E Jensen.

So, how does this new research affect our understanding of teenage behaviour? Teens are notorious for risk-taking, and it has been discovered that this is possibly because the striatum and other reward-sensitive elements of the brain are extremely active in the teen years, whereas the pre-frontal cortex that controls reason and judgement is slower to develop. However, a positive development is that the teenage mind craves stimulation and so makes more connections between the striatum and the hippocampus – the area of the brain associated with memories – than fully-fledged adults. This, in turn, makes recall-facilities more vibrant and gives teenagers, on the whole, better working memories than adults. This makes great sense to me: during my mid-teens, I could learn the periodic table with consummate ease, whilst memorising the back catalogue of The Smiths at the same time. With age has come experience, but I do mourn the loss of my indefatigable ability to learn huge chunks of information. In my late teens, l read Beowulf in the original Old English; nowadays, I can barely remember my conversational Spanish phrases to navigate my way around Alicante bus station. So, those of you who are tempted to criticise teenagers for their annoying habits and sheer daftness at times: remember that you were once like them and that, in many ways, they are far brighter than you might give them credit for, just as you were probably underestimated by the older generations before you

Sign-up to our newsletter

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.