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Teenage brain area linked to exploration

teenage brain area linked to exploration
Photo: Teenager 'exploration'
Scientists researching brain activity during exploratory behaviour say it could help identify teenagers most likely to engage in risky behaviours.

Pre-teenage girls who like to explore and show interest in new things have brains wired differently from those who don't, scientists have found.

Researchers studied 62 girls between the ages of 11 and 13 who completed a task that measured their exploratory behaviour and also underwent magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) brain scans.

The reward-based task involved a clock face where the second hand made a complete rotation over five seconds.

Varying numbers of points could be earned depending on where the participants stopped the second hand.

To discover how to be rewarded most, it was necessary to "explore" the clock by stopping it at different times.
Based on the way they approached the clock task, the girls were split into two groups of 41 "explorers" and 21 "non-explorers".

The scans showed that explorers had stronger connections between the rostrolateral prefrontal cortex, posterior insula and putamen brain regions. These are parts of the brain sensitive to the "state of the body" and "carrying out actions".

Lead researcher Dr Andrew Kayser, from the University of California at San Francisco, said little research had been done to look at what happens in the brain during this period.

"This research is fascinating because it could help us to understand how exploration can lead to both good and bad behaviours that promote or reduce well-being in teenagers," he said.

"If we can better understand these brain connections, down the road we may be able to come up with a way to better identify teens most likely to engage in dangerous or risky behaviours."

The findings were presented at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology in Washington DC.


Copyright AAP 2015

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