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NCBI Bookshelf. The overview of common risk behaviors presented in Chapter 2 highlights two questions: Why are certain types of risk-taking more prevalent among adolescents than other age groups? And why do some adolescents engage in more risk-taking than others and suffer more negative effects?

The research on individual risk behaviors provides strong reasons to think that common factors may cut across multiple problem areas.

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Findings from several fields offer insights into the bio-behavioral processes that influence adolescents and how they may vary among individuals. One possible explanation for the risks adolescents take is that their brains work differently from those of younger children or adults.

The availability of new technologies structural and functional magnetic resonance imaging and diffusion tensor imaging has allowed researchers to trace changes in the size and shape of brain structures, to link those changes with behavior and observable development, and even Galvin Washington girls blowjobs track emerging connections between brain structures and development Casey Galvin Washington girls blowjobs al.

This research has expanded understanding of the development of different regions of the brain, which are responsible for selected functions, actions, and behaviors, and to draw connections between brain development and behavior. Linda Patia Spear and B. Casey both explored developmental processes that occur during this period, each focusing on different ways that brain development relates to adolescent risk-taking.

Developments in the brain relate to important features of adolescence, not only among humans but also among other mammals, Spear Galvin Washington girls blowjobs. The gradual transition from dependence and immaturity to relative independence and maturity is one that virtually all mammalian species experience. Humans and other species need to develop the skills necessary to survive as adults and to reproduce. During this transition phase, mammals experience many hormonal and physiological changes, such as growth spurts and puberty, and they tend to display certain behaviors that are typical of the age.

Spear noted that human behavior and brain function are ificantly more complicated than those of other mammals—and also cautioned against interpreting these observed phenomena as evidence of biodeterminism, because many other factors affect human development and behavior. Nevertheless, across species, adolescents tend to show increases in preference for socializing with their peers, which researchers think may be adaptive behavior that helps individuals develop social skills, supports the skills they will need as adults, and helps them prepare to survive without parental protection.

Adolescents in a variety of species also show increases in novelty-seeking and risk-taking, which, for humans, often are expressed through the behaviors discussed in Chapter 2. Researchers have posited, however, that the propensity to seek novelty and take risks may be adaptive in several ways. For males in particular, these impulses may improve the odds of reproductive success. They may foster acceptance among peers, and they may help the species avoid inbreeding by making males, females, or both more likely to leave their home territory by the time they are sexually mature, so they can seek mates elsewhere and avoid inbreeding.

The biological changes that occur in mammals also include puberty, a period when a cascade of hormonal activity, beginning with the release of gonadotropin from the hypothalamus gland, culminates in the release of the gonadal hormones estrogen and testosterone.

These hormones, in turn, have a variety of effects on the body and on behavior, Spear explained. At the same time, however, equally dramatic changes in the brain are taking place. Spear pointed out that the basic structures of the brain are relatively ancient from an evolutionary perspective.

Thus, virtually all mammalian species share not only these structures, but also the timing of the structural changes that occur in the brain as the individual matures. Researchers have found, for example, a decrease of up to 50 percent in the of synaptic connections among neurons in different regions of the brain during adolescence. In general, researchers think that an overproduction of synapses occurs early in life, which is then followed by gradual pruning.

Researchers have also documented an increase in the death of neurons and their support cells, which is likely to be associated with a decrease in gray matter and an increase in white matter. The changes that take place in the adolescent brain are specific to particular regions—those that are most important for modulating behavioral responses to reward and affective behavior.

Control over these behaviors is likely to influence risk-taking. The prefrontal cortex, which undergoes ificant change during adolescence, is the site of executive control functions that start emerging early in life and continue to develop into adulthood. Spear described these cognitive controls as top-down systems that are critical in allowing the individual to exert control over a range of responses. They help modulate sensitivity to different kinds of rewards, identify the ificance of stimuli, and exert control over impulses and emotional and social responses—the bottom-up brain systems.

Casey also highlighted the ificance of the fact that development occurs at different rates in different parts of the brain. The development of the prefrontal cortex is gradual and is not complete until well into adulthood. This aspect of brain function has been a focus for many researchers but by itself does not completely explain the behavior patterns adolescents exhibit.

The relationship between the prefrontal cortex and the limbic system—the area that supports emotion and many behavioral tendencies, as well as long-term memory—has received increasing attention. The limbic system develops on a steeper curve than the prefrontal cortex, as shown in Figureso that the disparity between these two regions is greatest during adolescence. The result can be an imbalance that may favor behaviors driven by emotion and response to incentives over rational decision making. It is this imbalance—not just the protracted development of cognitive control alone—that contributes to the prevalence of risk-taking in adolescents Casey et al.

Different developmental trajectories. Casey noted that risk-taking is a complex construct that involves more than sensation-seeking and inadequate impulse control—which themselves are often wrongly viewed as indistinguishable. One reason is that other factors, such as emotions and the incentives provided by environmental cues, also affect risk-taking.

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She pointed to research suggesting that sensitivity to rewards, such as money, food, or peer approval, can influence behavior even when individuals are not conscious of responding to these influences Galvan et al. Adolescents and adults may be similarly responsive to potential rewards a limbic region functionshe explained, but adolescents have less control over the urge to seek a reward that may have negative effects a prefrontal cortex function. Casey suggested that the development of the parts of the brain that respond to rewards the limbic system is on a different trajectory from those that may override unwise choices.

Impulse control as a function of age. Galvin Washington girls blowjobs were collected as part of a National Institute of Drug Abuse grant no. R01DA to B. Casey at Weill Cornell Medical College. Spear noted that a range of studies of specific brain regions has shown the differences in the responses of adult brains and adolescent brains to stimuli, as well as perceptions of risk and reward.

For example, adolescents seem more influenced by stressful, exciting, or emotionally charged situations when making decisions. As a result, they may find a variety of drugs more rewarding than adults do—perceiving more enhanced social facility when under the effects of alcohol, for example.

They may also be less sensitive to the adverse effects of these substances; some evidence indicates that they may experience less gross behavioral change in response to intoxication and less hangover after imbibing, for example. This general tendency in adolescents may be exacerbated by certain genetic traits—with the result that an individual who uses substances in early adolescence, when sensitivity to negative effects is lowest and stresses are high, may have heightened susceptibility to later problems because of the action of the alcohol or drug on the developing brain.

Casey pointed out that a variety of differences among individuals— including biological predispositions and differences in the pace of development of different regions of the brain—also influence risk-taking behavior. She noted that researchers have identified differences in the way even young children respond to situations that reward self-control and delayed gratification, for example, and that these differences tend to persist into adulthood Eigsti et al.

At the same time, adolescents differ from adults in their capacity to override their impulses when they are in emotionally charged situations.

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That is, adolescents may be perfectly able to reason that a decision is not prudent but feel powerless to resist the impulse, whereas when adults make imprudent decisions, it is because they have identified reasons in support of the decision. Casey reported that brain research has associated this trait with an increased activity level in the nucleus accumbens a region associated with reward, pleasure, and other emotional responses of the adolescent brain compared with both children and adults.

Studies have linked heightened activity in this region to an increased likelihood of taking risks and decreased likelihood of perceiving negative consequences from risks. The timing of these various changes in the brain means that they play an important role in the experience of adolescence. Spear suggested, however, that a dynamic process occurs in which developing activities in different regions of the brain become more strongly interrelated and linked over time.

That is, they do not follow an inevitable sequential pattern—and they are probably influenced by one another and by the experiences the individual has while they are occurring. The adolescent brain reacts differently to stimuli than the adult brain. The combination of exaggerated sensitivity to the rewards offered by many high-risk behaviors, a reduced sensitivity to adverse effects, and the insufficient power of immature frontal cognitive control all contribute to adolescent risk-taking.

Since the neural underpinnings of adolescent behavior are likely to vary ificantly in the course of adolescence, Spear suggested, it is important to recognize that approaches to managing or preventing risky behaviors may need to be tailored to different ages. Helping young people find safer ways to explore risks, for example, may work well with younger adolescents, whereas with older ones it may be preferable to help them strengthen their emerging capacity for cognitive control. Casey highlighted the importance of considering interactions among the environmental and genetic factors that may contribute to risk-taking and resilience.

Daniel S. Pine and Elizabeth J. Susman raised a of questions about the implications of understanding functions of the adolescent brain. Although basic science is many years away from producing diagnostic tests or other tools that would simplify diagnosis or intervention, it does provide the basis for new thinking about adolescent risk-taking. The cross-species research and other studies may enhance understanding of developmental sensitivities from a circuitry-based perspective, which could lead to many other valuable ideas for interventions to test in humans.

Similarly, the insights about the changes in brain responses to rewards that occur during adolescence link well with findings from studies of the peripheral processes related to stress, Susman noted. Research on stress has identified regulation of the stress response—a reduction in the normal physiological stress response—in children who are displaying problem behavior.

Because of a reduction in the release of cortisol or other physiological components of the stress system, children who are highly disruptive or show symptoms of conduct disorder have reduced heart rates and other stress responses in stressful situations. In other words, consistent with earlier theories of sensation-seeking e. Susman suggested that the developmental changes Spear described could partly for these differences between adolescents and adults—and this possibility suggests important links between central and peripheral processes of Galvin Washington girls blowjobs brain.

Additional research is needed to explore such questions as how the timing of puberty might interact with brain development discussed below and possible gender differences in the development of the reward system. Although adolescents are physically strong and healthy, their rates of injury and death increase by percent from childhood to late adolescence. The primary reason, Ronald E. Dahl explained, is the difficulties they have controlling their behavior and emotions. Whether the issue is accidents, homicide, depression, alcohol, substance use, violence, reckless behaviors, eating disorders, or health problems related to risky sexual behaviors, he suggested, the development of self-regulatory processes is key to understanding it.

As Spear explained earlier, adolescence is a time during which humans and other species are prone to explore and to seek novelty. The social context, however, has an important influence on how those impulses are acted on. Dahl noted that adolescence itself has changed over the past years, biologically, socially, and culturally. Children are growing faster and to larger adult Galvin Washington girls blowjobs than ever before, and they are reaching reproductive and physical maturity at earlier ages Panter-Brick and Worthman, Adolescence once might have lasted 2 to 4 years; but based upon our understanding of pubertal processes, neurodevelopmental changes, social development, and other elements of adolescent development, it now may last a decade or more.

The onset of adolescence, linked to the onset of puberty, is characterized by:.

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Abstract: Protective Factors Associated with Sexual Risk Behaviors and Drug Use Among African American Adolescent Girls in Child Welfare (Society for Social Work and Research 23rd Annual Conference - Ending Gender Based, Family and Community Violence)