Teenager's Brain Research Paper

Excerpt from Research Paper :

Teenager's Brain

A Teenagers Brain

The teenage brain is different from the normal adult's brain in which "…various parts of the brain work together to evaluate choices, make decisions and act accordingly in each situation." (Edmonds, 2010) The teenage brain can be compared to an entertainment center, according to Edmonds "that hasn't been fully hooked up. There are loose wires, so that the speaker system isn't working with the DVD players, which in turn hasn't been formatted to work with the television yet. And to top it all off, the remote control hasn't even arrived." (2010)

Brain Development

Edmonds (2010) explains that the remote control for the brain is the 'prefrontal cortex' described as "a section of the brain that weighs outcomes, forms judgments, and controls impulses and emotions. This section of the brain also helps people understand one another." (Edmonds, 2010) Synapses are used by the prefrontal cortex in communicating with other sections of the brain, which are compared to the wires of an entertainment system in the work of Edmonds (2010). Scientist have discovered that the synapses of the teenager's brain experience vast growth during adolescence however, the prefrontal cortex in the brain of the teenager is "a little immature…as compared to adults" in that this area of the brain does not develop in full until the individual is in their mid-20s. (Edmonds, 2010, paraphrased)

Edmonds states that imaging studies have demonstrated that the majority of the mental energy used by teenagers in their decision-making "is located in the back of the brain, whereas adults do most of their processing in the frontal lobe." (Edmonds, 2010) When the frontal lobe is used by teenagers, they are reported to "overdo it, calling upon much more of the brain to get the job done that adults would." (Edmonds, 2010) There is one area of the teenagers' brain that is developed "fairly well…early on" and that is the 'nucleus accumbens' which is the area of the brain "that seeks pleasure and reward" and studies have shown that when the subject received small, medium, or large reward, teenagers exhibited exaggerated responses to medium and large rewards compared to children and adults. When presented with a small reward, the teenager's brains hardly fired at all in comparison to adults and children." (Edmonds, 2010)

II. Teenagers Brains are Different from Adult Brains

Research findings reported by Cornell University researchers states that "the teenager's brain is different than the adult brain" and that this was determined by scientists at the National Institute of Mental Health (HIMH) through use of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) which states that the teen brain "is not a finished product, but is a work in progress." (ACT for Youth, 2002) The report states that scientists had until recently "believe that the major wiring of the brain was completed by as early as three years of age and that the brain was fully mature by the age of 10 or 12." (ACT for Youth, 2002) New findings however, are reported to show that "the greatest changes to the parts of the brain that are responsible for functions such as self-control, judgment, emotions, and organization occur between puberty and adulthood." (ACT for Youth, 2002) According to Dr. Jay Giedd of the NIMH "The brain is still developing during the teen years…brain maturation does not stop at age 10, but continues into the teen years and even into the 20s." (ACT for Youth, 2002)

III. Second Wave of Overproduction Gray Matter During Teenage Years

One of the most surprising discoveries is stated to be that "you get a second wave of overproduction of gray matter, something that was thought to happen only in the first 18 months of life." (ACT for Youth, 2002) It is stated that after the overproduction of gray matter, "the brain undergoes a process called 'pruning' where connections among neurons in the brain that are not used wither away, while those that are used stay -- the 'use it or lose it' principle." (ACT for Youth, 2002) This pruning process is believed to make the brain more efficient through strengthening the connections that are used most often and eliminating the clutter of those that are not used at all." (ACT for Youth, 2002)

IV. Brain Activity and Brain Regions

Infant brain activity is reported to be determined completely by the parents and environment while the brain activity of teens is within the control of the teen in terms of how their brains are wired. It is reported that teens "who exercise their brains by learning how to order their thoughts, understand abstract concepts and control their impulses are laying the neural foundations that will serve them for the rest of their lives." (ACT for Youth, 2002) Brain regions and the accompanying functions are stated to include the following:

(1) Frontal Lobe -- self-control, judgment, emotional regulation, restructured in teen years;

(2) Corpus Callosum -- Intelligence, consciousness and self-awareness, reaches full maturity in 20s;

(3) Parietal Lobes -- integrate auditory, visual and tactile signals, immature until age 16; and (4) Temporal Lobes -- emotional maturity, still developing after age 16. (ACT for Youth, 2002)

The work of Winters and McLellan (2008) entitled "Adolescent Brain Development and Drug Abuse" reports that new discoveries in science show that "the human brain is still maturing during the adolescent years, with significant changes continuing into the early 20s." ( ) Winters and McLellan further state, "The juvenile brain is still maturing in the teenage years and reasoning and judgment are developing well into the early to mid 20s." (2008) The brain maturation is stated by Winters and McLellan to "occur from the back of the brain to the front. So the front region of the brain, known as the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for high-level reasoning and decision-making does not become fully mature until around the early to mid 20s." (Winters and McLellan, 2008) The prefrontal cortex is reported to be the area of the brain that "enables a person to think clearly, to make good decisions and control impulses." (Winters and McLellan, 2008)

V. Risk-Taking in Teenagers

Winters and McLellan additionally report that scientists have cautioned against "…suggestions of definitive linkages between brain development and adolescent behavior, but there is a growing sentiment among experts that when teenagers are feeling high emotion or intense peer pressure, conditions are ripe for the still-maturing circuitry in the front part of the brain to be overwhelmed, resulting in inexplicable behavior and poor judgments." (2008) According to experts, teenagers at the ages of 16 and 17 when compared to adults on the average more:

(1) Impulsive;

(2) Aggressive;

(3) Emotionally volatile;

(4) Emotionally volatile;

(5) Likely to take risks;

(6) Reactive to stress;

(7) Vulnerable to peer pressure;

(8) Prone to focus on and overestimate short-term payoffs; and (9) Underplay longer-term consequences of what they do. (Winters and McLellan, 2008)

VI. Teenagers and Drug and Alcohol Use/Abuse

Reported in the work of Winters and McLellan is the fact that scientist have began to explore "…whether these new discoveries explain adolescent drug use and related impulsive behaviors. Adolescence is a time of experimentation and novelty seeking." (2008) It is reported that more than fifty percent of teenagers will try an illicit drug "at least once…and nearly all of them will have tried either alcohol, tobacco, or both at least once before they reach legal age." (Winters and McLellan, 2008) Additionally reported is that national surveys for alcohol show that alcohol is the drug that Americans use the most and that young people "...show higher rates or percentages of alcohol problems compared to older age groups."

For youth ages 15-20 years it is reported that 12.2% met the definition of an alcohol dependence disorder within the past 12 months." (Winters and McLellan, 2008) This rate was found to be a great deal higher than other age groups and for example, it is stated that for individuals in the 30-34 age group only 4.1% met the criteria of having an alcohol dependence disorder within the past 12 months. (Winters and McLellan, 2008, paraphrased)

It is reported that from a neuro-development standpoint "…two central questions merit scientific attention: (1) Do neuro-developmental factors predispose adolescents to seek out and abuse alcohol and drugs? And (2) Are there any deleterious effects on brain development as result of drug use in adolescence? (Winters and McLellan, 2008) It is related to evidence from both human and animal data is relative to each question.

The first question of whether adolescents are more vulnerable than adults to abuse drugs' is answered by stating, "Several neurodevelopmental findings provide provisional answers to this question. As already noted, a developing prefrontal cortex increases the propensity of teenagers to act impulsively and to ignore the negative consequences of such behavior. And there is growing evidence that one direct result of a developing teenage brain is that adolescents subjectively report greater feelings of social disinhibition when drinking alcohol compared to adults." (Winters and McLellan, 2008) It is reported that in…

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