Teenagers’ Brain Con­nec­tions Make Them Learn Dif­fer­ently: Study

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Teenagers are of­ten por­trayed as thrill-seek­ers, but re­search sug­gests their brains are wired to learn from their ex­pe­ri­ences, which makes them bet­ter pre­pared for adult­hood. In a small study, they per­formed bet­ter than adults at a pic­ture­based game and brain scans showed a higher level of brain ac­tiv­ity.

Re­searchers said the role of the hip­pocam­pus in the brain was key. And they said the find­ings could point to new ways of teach­ing teenagers. The re­search team, from Har­vard, Columbia and California univer­si­ties, set out to test whether ado­les­cents’ typ­i­cal re­ward-seek­ing be­hav­iour could also make them bet­ter at learn­ing from good or bad out­comes. They asked 41 teenagers, aged 13 to 17, and 31 adults, aged 20 to 30, to play a game based on pictures while scan­ning some of each group’s brains us­ing MRI. In the game, the teenagers got more an­swers cor­rect and mem­ory tests showed they were also bet­ter at re­mem­ber­ing the de­tail of why they chose the an­swers they did. The study said this meant they were bet­ter at learn­ing from their ex­pe­ri­ences - which would equip them well for leav­ing home and gain­ing in­de­pen­dence as adults. When they looked at the teenagers’ brain scans, the re­searchers found ac­tiv­ity in two ar­eas of the brain - the hip­pocam­pus and the stria­tum - whereas adults mainly used their stria­tum. They said these con­nec­tions be­tween two im­por­tant parts of the grow­ing brain ex­plained why they per­formed bet­ter.

Of­ten re­ferred to as the brain’s mem­ory headquarters, hip­pocam­pus is a sea­horse-shaped col­lec­tion of cells in the mid­dle of the brain which stores and sorts mem­o­ries and is also linked to the abil­ity to nav­i­gate from one place to another. Stria­tum is an area of the brain in­volved in plan­ning and de­ci­sion mak­ing, which is also im­por­tant for link­ing ac­tion and re­ward. The part played by the hip­pocam­pus to re­in­force learn­ing dur­ing ado­les­cence had not been recog­nised be­fore, the study in Neu­ron said.

Juliet Davi­dow, a psy­chol­ogy re­searcher at Har­vard Univer­sity, said the find­ings could in­spire new ways of teach­ing teenagers.

“If you frame some­thing pos­i­tively, it could be the case that ado­les­cents will re­mem­ber things about The re­searchers are now look­ing at what other sit­u­a­tions or ex­pe­ri­ences ac­ti­vate this link be­tween the stria­tum and hip­pocam­pus in teenage brains. BBC

Teenagers are of­ten por­trayed as thrillseek­ers, but re­search sug­gests their brains are wired to learn from their ex­pe­ri­ences, which makes them bet­ter pre­pared for adult­hood

Teenagers learn and re­mem­ber dif­fer­ently, pos­si­bly be­cause their brains are wired dif­fer­ently.

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