Almost every parent would agree that teenagers are not easy to care for. Arguments are common in many parent-teenager relationships. However, with a new study, scientists attempt to explain why teenagers can be so stubborn when it comes to taking criticism from their parents.
Scientists took a group of 32 subjects, 22 of which were female, with an average age of 14. The brain activity of the teenagers was measured as they were given certain audio clips to listen to. These clips consisted of their own mothers scolding or criticizing them. The researchers also had them listen to other clips in which their mothers were talking about everyday situations such as grocery shopping. Three parts of the brain were carefully studied; those associated with regulating emotion, those dealing with negative emotion, and those functioning in the understanding of the perspectives of other people in social situations.
No one should be surprised that the areas associated with negative emotion experienced heightened activity with the mother’s criticizing. However, the other two parts of the brain that control emotion and allow processing of the emotions of others decreased in activity. When looking at the brain, the prefrontal cortex is primarily in charge of regulating emotion. This part of the brain is highly developed in humans because it allows us to understand the information we take in and decide what should be done with it. The temporoparietal junction is an area of the brain allows people to grasp and understand the emotions and actions of other people.
The researchers concluded that with less brain activity in these two brain regions, teenagers are not understanding their parent’s perspective and are not reasoning with them in the same manner as an adult brain. This was just the first of these types of studies, more research will need to be done to understand how these areas of the brain interact, or don’t, in the teenage brain.
- Wise Geek: What is the Temporoparietal Junction
- Brain Watch: The Teen Brain “Shuts Down” When It Hears Mom’s Criticism (Wired, Nov 2014)
- Lee K.H., R. E. Dahl, J. M. Hooley & J. S. Silk (2014). Neural responses to maternal criticism in healthy youth, Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/scan/nsu133
John A Beal [CC-BY-2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons