MRI Study to Compare Risk-Assessing Brain Activity in Adolescents and Adults

“At nineteen, it seems to me, one has the right to be arrogant; time has usually not begun its stealthy and rotten subtractions,” wrote Stephen King.

There is a long-held belief in North American society that adolescents drive faster and party harder than the adults they grow up to be. Now, a team of researchers at Cornell University has been awarded a 1.7 million dollar grant to use fMR Imaging in order to get to the bottom of why the teen brain appears to engage in higher-risk activity.

“Research suggests that adolescents differ from adults in emotional reactivity, motivation and self-regulation, but substantial ambiguities remain about how these factors determine adolescents’ risky decision making,” says Professor Valerie Reyna, co-director of Cornell’s brand-new MRI facility and principal investigator for the grant. “People assume that young people think that they’re invincible based on their risky behaviour,” Reyna added. “The grant is about understanding how perception of risk and reward influence adolescents differently than adults, often in ways that are counter-intuitive.”

The multidisciplinary study brings together a team of researchers from the fields of sociology, psychology, economics, neuroscience, physics and human development to answer unresolved questions about the differences between developed and developing brains and their effect on risk and reward.