A new study has revealed that preteens who experiment or explore new things may have brain processes that work differently than those of preteens who do not.
Study author Andrew Kayser said, "The beginning of adolescence is associated with seeking new experiences and increasing exploratory behaviors, but little research has been done to measure that increase or to look at what happens in the brain during this period. Studies with adults have begun to look at individual differences in willingness to seek new experiences, and some studies have tied willingness to explore with an area of the brain called the rostrolateral prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for higher level decision-making."
62 girls between the ages of 11 and 13 were part of the study. They had to complete a task that measured their exploratory and experimenting behavior. Based on their behavior on the task, the study group was split into 41 'explorers' and 21 'non-explorers'. The girls were then subjected to MRI brain scans. Researchers identified a connection that was stronger in explorers than in non-explorers between the rostrolateral prefrontal cortex and the posterior insula and putamen, parts of the brain sensitive to the 'state of the body' and 'carrying out actions', respectively. Activity in the putamen and insula seemed to influence the rostrolateral prefrontal cortex, rather than the other way around.
Kayser said, "This research is fascinating because it could help us to understand how exploration can lead to both good and bad behaviors that promote or reduce well-being in teenagers. If we can better understand these brain connections, down the road we may be able to come up with a way to better identify teens most likely to engage in dangerous or risky behaviors."
The study will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology's 67th Annual Meeting in Washington, DC, April 18 to 25, 2015.