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Behaviors Associated with the Development of the Adolescent Brain

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Young People
Wordcount: 1887 words Published: 8th Feb 2020

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The video The Mysterious Workings of the Adolescent Brain dives into the topic of how the adolescent brain is complex and it is physically changing during the time of adolescences. The speaker dives into the topic to explain these changes and to help educate the audience as to why adolescent are more likely to take risks. Having more knowledge about the adolescent brain can help educate not only scientists but also future parents about the behaviors that can be associated with adolescents. This topic connects to developmental psychology since It addresses the changes that are happening during the adolescent years.

Description of TedEd (The Mysterious workings of the Adolescent Brain)

The Tedtalk starts by explaining to the audience the difference between a structural magnetic resonance image, sMRI, and a functional magnetic resonance image, fMRI. A structural MRI takes a still photo of the inside of the brain. This helps scientist measure any change that goes on in the brain. A functional MRI takes a video of the individual’s brain activity, which helps a scientist measure any changes in the brain over time. This helped scientists to understand that the brain is constantly changing all the way through adolescents to an individual’s late twenties and early thirties. Blackmore (2012) defines adolescents as the beginning starting with puberty and ending when the individual is a fully functional independent member of society (The Mysterious workings on the adolescent brain). Blackmore (2012) also goes to talk about the specific region of the brain that is changing during adolescents, which is the prefrontal cortex, and it is involved in decision making and planning.

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A specific aspect of the prefrontal cortex that is discussed is the medial prefrontal cortex, which is used when people make social decisions. What Blackmore (2012) and her lab found is that this part of the prefrontal cortex decreases in adolescents than in adults when social decisions are being made. This finding helps create the idea that adolescents may use a different approach to solving certain situations than adults do. With the medial prefrontal cortex decreasing in adolescents, this also means that adolescents have a very difficult time taking another individuals point of view. To test this, Blackmore (2012) created a behavioral test that was administered to individuals from age seven to adulthood.

The task was that there was a grey bookshelf with items placed in individual spots. On some of the spots, there was a piece of wood covering it from someone on the other side of the bookshelf. The individual who was on the other side of the bookshelf was called the director. The job of the director was to tell the participant to move certain objects from one spot on the shelf to the other. The participant just had to remember to move only the objects that the director could see. One of the questions could ask to move the top toy up one space, this could be a problem if the top toy that to the director could see was not the top toy that the participant could see. This could have led the participant to move an incorrect toy because they forgot to take the perspective of the director. This was compared to the control group, and the difference in the control group is that there was not a director on the opposite side of the bookshelf. Instead the control group was told the rule that they had to remember to take the perspective of someone who is on the other side, even though there was not an actual person present. The results showed that normal healthy adults made the mistake of not taking the perspective of the director and moving the incorrect toy about fifty percent of the time. In the control group, with no director, the adults made fewer mistakes. This same trend was the same from age seven to adulthood except for mid adolescents control group. This group was the same as for adults which suggests that by middles adolescents the prefrontal cortex is fully developed. This shows that up until that point of middle adolescents where the prefrontal cortex is fully developed, adolescents have a more difficult time taking the perspective of someone else.

Another interesting find is the reason as to why adolescents are more prone to taking more risks than children and adults and this is due to the limbic system. Blackmore (2012) stated that the limbic system is responsible for the feeling of reward that someone gets when they do something. In adolescents, this area is extremely sensitive which is why when adolescents take risks the feeling of reward is much higher. The prefrontal cortex is supposed to help stop an individual from taking certain risks but as stated before it is still developing in adolescents. Therefore, adolescents are more likely to take risks.

Discussion of related source 1: Brain Development in heavy-drinking adolescents.

 The research has shown that adolescents are more likely to take risks, but the implications of that can create drastic effects on the developing brain of an adolescent. A study conducted by Squeglia, Tapert, Sullivan, Jacobus, Meloy, Rohlfing, and Pfefferbaum (2015) tried to determine what the effects of heavy drinking would be on the brain development of an adolescent. The goal of the study was to determine if adolescents who were considered heavy drinkers had any different brain development than adolescents who did not drink or were non-drinkers. Squeglia (2015) studied the gray matter in each of the participants to determine their results. There was a total of 134 adolescents who participated in the study. Of the 134 participants, 75 of them were considered heavy drinkers and the remaining 54 were considered to be either light drinkers or non-drinkers all together. The time line was about three and a half years, so if you were a heavy drinker for at least that amount of time then you would be placed in the heavy drinker group. The same for light or non-drinkers being around roughly three and a half years. Squeglia (2015) would take between two and six MRI’s of these participants between the ages of twelve and twenty-four. The results of this study showed that those who were considered heavy drinkers had a decrease in the volume of gray matter in several areas of the brain in comparison to those who were light or non-drinkers. This study shows that adolescents should be careful when they decide to take certain risks, such as drinking large amounts of alcohol, because it could affect the development of their brain.

Discussion of related source 2: Risky Business: Executive function, personality, and reckless behavior during adolescents and emerging adulthood.

 Many parents and adults tend to believe that risk taking in adolescents is a problem that they will not have to deal with because they will raise their children the correct way, but that is not the only factor associated with risk taking in adolescents. A startling statistic pointed out by Pharo, Sim, Graham. Gross, & Hayne (2011) is that during adolescence, injury and the risk of death is increased tremendously, and this is because of the increased in risk taking behavior in adolescence. In the study conducted by Pharo, Sim, Graham, Gross, and Hayne (2011), they examined the relationship between risky behaviors, an individual’s personality, and the participants score of a test of executive function. They had a total of 193 participants, 136 of them where adolescents between the ages of 13 and 17 and the remaining 57 of them were categorized as emerging adulthood and their ages ranged from 18 to 22. The results of this study showed that the answers on the executive function test and those who had what was considered a “risky personality” showed greater predictions of engaging in risk taking behaviors in their environment than others. This proves that during adolescents, risk taking behavior is a caution that adults and parents need to be informed about and they need to prepare for it.


In the Tedtalk, Blackmore (2012) talked about how adolescents have a more difficult time taking the opinions of others, and this is because their prefrontal cortex and their limbic system are both still fully developing. This is also why adolescents are more likely to take risks. The dangerous part of knowing that adolescents are more prone to take risks rather than adults is knowing that some risks they might take can affect their brain development. The brain of an adolescent is still growing and changing, but if alcohol or any other substance is added it could damage the development of that adolescent.

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 In Pharo (2011) the idea of knowing that risky behavior is a common factor was enough of a reason to try and create an experiment. Through personality, and a test of executive function, they were able to see that those who scored high on the test of executive function and had a certain personality type were more likely to engage is risky behaviors. Knowing this can help give parents and adults the guidance they need to help try and deter these behaviors, but that will only help so much. Adolescents who are going to take risks and try new things also need to be informed about the consequences of what they are doing can have. Not just the punishment that would be given by a parent or adult, but also the changes that can happen in their developing brain.

 In Squeglia (2015) the test to see if alcohol can affect the developing brain was conducted. It was shown that those who consumed heavy amount of alcohol for at least of period of consecutive three and a half years, there was a decrease in the volume of the gray matter in the brain. This can create problems in the future of the adolescent. Knowing that alcohol is a risk that adolescents could take and having some knowledge about what the implications of that risk is can help inform adolescents on the risk they may engage in, but there are more. Scientists need to study other risks such as other substances like marijuana, or even caffeine to try and educate adolescents on more of the risky behaviors they might engage themselves in.


  • Blackmore, S. (2012). The mysterious workings of the adolescent brain. TEDEd.Retrieved from https://ed.ted.com/lessons/the-mysterious-workings-of-the-adolescent-brain-sarah-jayne-blakemore#review
  • Pharo, H., Sim, C., Graham, M., Gross, J., & Hayne, H. (2011). Risky business: Executive function, personality, and reckless behavior during adolescence and emerging adulthood. Behavioral Neuroscience, 125(6), 970-978.
  • Squeaglia, L. M, Tapert, S. F., Sullivan, E. V., Jacobus, J., Meloy, M. J., Rohlfing, T., & Pfefferbaum, A. (2015). Brain development in heavy-drinking adolescents. The American Journal of Psychiatry, 172(6),531-42.


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