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Science Nation: Teen and Stress

3 minutes

(male narrator) Dealing with teens can be rough. They're moody, and sometimes they're not the best decision-makers. So what makes a teen act like a teen? Teenagers experience stress as more stressful. And if that stress is interfering with their decision-making, it's important to understand the neural mechanism that's underlying this connection between high levels of stress and poor decision-making.

(narrator) With the National Science Foundation's help, UCLA psychologist Adriana Galván is conducting a pioneering study on the effect of stress on brain function in adolescents and adults. Participants report their stress level daily and come in for a test when they feel stressed out. Okay, her brain looks good. She's in the right position.

(narrator) In this demonstration, 18-year-old Nilufer Rustomji plays risk and reward games, while Galván watches her brain function using magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI. She looks through specialized goggles, playing a game involving wagering money.

(Galván) She's evaluating risk. And while she's evaluating, we're taking pictures of her brain, seeing how the brain makes risky choices.

(narrator) The images show how stress and risk combine to fuel what Galván calls the reward system in teen brains. The teenagers show more activation in the reward system than adults, when making risky choices. And they're making more risky choices than adults.

(narrator) Complicating matters, a teen's prefrontal cortex is not fully developed. That brain section controls the kinds of behaviors that teens could put to use in stressful situations. Double-checking, thinking about the future, thinking about how consequences today impact you later. What happens when you're stressed out, as a teenager, it's interfering with your decision-making ability because it's interfering with brain function in still-developing regions, mainly the reward system in the prefrontal cortex.

(narrator) Next time a teen gets under your skin, try and remember what's going on inside theirs.

For Science Nation, I'm Miles O'Brien.

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Ever wonder what is going on in the mind of a teenager, especially one who is stressed out? UCLA Psychologist Adriana Galvan is on a quest to find out. With support from the National Science Foundation, she’s investigating the effects of daily stress on a teen’s cognition and brain function. She is monitoring the daily stress of teens by having them carry a personal digital device that provides daily measures of stress over two weeks. She is also scanning their brains and measuring their stress hormone levels. By taking this multi-method approach, Galvan is learning how daily stress influences cognitive neurodevelopment in teens.

Media Details

Runtime: 3 minutes

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