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Neuroscience is unlocking mysteries of the teenage brain

Posted on 3 May 2018

How would you describe an average teenager? For most people, the following characteristics might come to mind: moody, impulsive, risk taking, likely to succumb to peer pressure.

While it’s clear that adolescence is a period of life that is rife with stereotypes, there is some truth to the cliches. Many neuroscience studies have now established that there are significant changes happening in the brain in adolescence. And the things that teenagers are often derided for – like their risk taking and vulnerability to peer pressure – are actually rooted in changes occurring in the brain. There’s just one problem with this: plenty of teenagers don’t fit the stereotypes.

We all know from personal experience that the way teenagers think and act can vary widely depending on which teenager you’re talking about. But despite this, the vast majority of studies to date have focused on averages: what happens on average to the brain during adolescence, or how do adolescents behave and feel on average?

Relying on averages in this way has an important statistical benefit – in that researchers are more likely to be able to detect a genuine effect if they average their findings across lots of participants. But the obvious cost is that these general findings don’t apply to everyone.

Read Dr Lucy Foulkes', full story of 'Neuroscience is unlocking mysteries of the teenage brain', published on