Working memory, the system in the brain that allows people to draw on and use information to plan and make decisions, develops through childhood and adolescence. Weaker working memory can increase the risk of both early sexual activity and unprotected sexual involvement during adolescence, says a new study by an Indian American researcher.
Adolescents with weaker working memory have more difficulty controlling their impulsive urges and considering the consequences of their behaviors. Adolescents, who have difficulty with impulse control may be more prone to risky sexual behavior.
"We extended previous findings by showing for the first time that individuals, who have pre-existing weakness in working memory are more likely to have difficulty controlling impulsive tendencies in early to mid-adolescence," said lead author Atika Khurana, assistant professor of counseling psychology and human services at the University of Oregon.
This study appeared in the journal Child Development. The study followed 360 adolescents (ages 12 to 15) for two years, examining the effects of working memory on changes in the youth's self-control and sexually risky behavior.
Youth with weaker working memory reported larger increases in impulsive tendencies over the follow-up period, which in turn boosted their likelihood of early and unprotected sexual activity.
In case of such teens, the desire to have sex always outweighed the risks of longer-term consequences, such as sexually transmitted infections and unintended pregnancy.
"Our findings identify alternative ways to intervene preventively," said Dan Romer, research director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania.
"For adolescents who have weak ability to override strong impulses, improvements in working memory may provide a pathway to greater control over risky sexual behavior," Romer added.