“What Were You Thinking?!” is the title of the latest Report on Progress, where Marisa Silveri, Ph.D., gives insight into the teenage brain.
Have you ever found yourself uttering the age-old phrase, “What were you thinking?!’”Aside from the self-directed use of this phrase by adults, this common expression is frequently directed at teens, and seems to be somewhat of a conundrum. Adults are often of the mind that teens were not thinking at all when they made that obviously awful decision. This is, however, a myth: teens are thinking, and quite rapidly at that. In fact, if you ask your teen “what was the better choice?” they often know the right answer. However, ask them “why did you do it?” and you will likely receive the less than acceptable answer, “I don’t know.” ‘What were you thinking?!’ isn’t necessarily a lack of knowing right from wrong, but rather an inability to hold back the wrong answer or behavior.
Our lab, the Neurodevelopmental Laboratory on Addictions and Mental Health, studies this phenomenon and its neurobiological underpinnings. We use neuroimaging technology (MRI) to characterize the beautiful young brain working its way through dynamic and elegant neurobiological transformations that lead to improved decision-making skills, among many other notable abilities. Why is this important? All of us are making decisions all of the time, sometimes even below the level of conscious awareness. For better or for worse, teens are constantly gaining new experiences, learning new skills, and having to make decisions, which is a complex intertwined process intended to propel them into adulthood. Brain development is delicately unfolding as some teens begin experimenting with alcohol, marijuana, and other substances, and some teens during a whirlwind of emotional storminess, start to experience significant changes in mood and anxiety…
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– Blayne Jeffries