Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : May 16th 2013 Contents B12
Guardian www.guardian.co.tt Thursday, May 16, 2013
Researchers in Cambridge have begun a study
to understand the teenage brain.
They have told BBC News that they will scan 300
people aged between 14 and 24 to see how their
brains change as they grow older.
The US$7.6 million study aims to identify changes
to the brain's wiring that controls impulsive and
emotional behaviour as young people mature.
The investigation should also shed light on the
emergence of mental disorders in young adults.
Psychological studies have documented that people
act less impulsively as they become older. The purpose
of the study at Cambridge University is to see whether
those changes are associated with the structure of
the brain. Kevin What is going on in his brain? Harry
Enfield's Kevin the Teenager: a painfully accurate
parody of teenage behaviour.
Ed Bullmore who is a professor of psychiatry at
Cambridge University believes that changes to the
brain's wiring enable the teenage brain to cope with
and then eventually control the emotions that initially
overwhelm the young mind.
"MRI scans will give us very good pictures of how
the anatomy of the brain changes over the course
of development," he told BBC News. "We are par-
ticularly interested in how the tissue at the centre
of the brain, known as white matter, might change
over the course of development."
White matter can be thought of as bundles of
wires in the middle of the brain that connect to
various different cells and on the surface of the brain,
known as grey matter.
Prof Bullmore believes that scans of the 14 to 24-
year-olds his team is studying will show gradual
changes in the white matter as the brain begins to
regulate powerful signals generated by the body's
hormones and the subjects gain control of their
The subjects will also undergo tests that assess
their propensity toward impulsive and risk-taking
behaviour. The expectation is that the emergence of
more sensible behaviour will correlate with changes
in the wiring of the brain's white matter. According
to Dr Becky Inkster, also from Cambridge University,
this comparison will enable researchers to directly
associate the shape of the wiring with behaviour
patterns that all adults have gone through.
"Arguably we've all been there and it's a very awk-
ward and complex and confusing time of life. So to
be able to express oneself is quite difficult. So by the
use of imaging and other tools we can really tap into
these features of the adolescent brain and understand
how they develop over time as they become a young
This type of scanning has only been possible rel-
atively recently and is being used in a US-led study,
called the Human Connectome Project, to understand
how the adult brain works. This is the first detailed
scanning study to learn about the workings of the
teenage brain. Among the first to undergo a scan is
16-year-old Samantha whom I met with her mother
Kim. She told me that she was all too aware of her
daughter's mood changes.
"If something has upset her at school she can be
quite moody when she comes home sometimes but
it doesn't last that long."
Samantha laughed when I asked her if she recog-
"When I was about 15 or 16, that's when I noticed
the change the biggest. Instead of being happy all
the time---I would be quite moody, angry, and I would
have arguments. I just changed completely."
And then I asked her whether she felt she was
changing back, perhaps becoming a little more in
"Sometimes, and then sometimes I think no," she
laughed. Sam did however say that she felt relieved
that her occasional moody bursts were down to her
brain wiring. "I felt really guilty when I started being
really moody---but learning it is just what happens-
I don't feel so bad anymore."
Prof Bullmore expects to see changes in the brain's
wiring that gradually bring impulsive behaviour under
"I think we are going to find that the decision-
making process in the younger teenagers we expect
to be more driven by short-term considerations,
immediate emotional states, immediate past history
of what was rewarding," he said.
Researchers to start study to
understand the teenage brain
Continues on Page B13
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