Through The Mind Of An Adolescent
Nicholas Panayotakos
Paul Brunet
Child Development

In her TED-Talks presentation, Dr. Sarah-Jayne Blakemore; a professor of cognitive neuroscience at the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, University College London (UCL); walks us through her study findings on adolescent behavior and their brain development. Two studies were conducted to examine these topics. These studies bring to the surface the empirical reasons why adolescence is just as significant as childhood, specifically in terms of brain development.
One of the most vital reasons that laboratories can do research in this field with such depth is due to the invention of brain scanning, or else, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Prior to the invention of the MRI, our data on brain development and functionality was far more limited. The MRI is split into two categories, the structural MRI (sMRI), and the functional MRI (fMRI); one provides structural data (sMRI), a more "hardware-like" approach; while the other provides functional data (fMRI), a more "software-like" approach.
Through the invention of the sMRI we have discovered that, during adolescence, gray matter volume reaches its peak. However, after adolescence, we have observed a reduction in volume. During that time, the researchers hypothesize this phenomenon being associated with synaptic pruning; a process in our brain in which unused synapses (neuro-connections) are eliminated and used synapses are strengthened. Dr. Blakemore remarks this process as the "fine-tuning" of our brain.
The first study would require the individual during an fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) scan, to think about others, their mentality, their emotions, and their thoughts. Through the results of the brain scanning, they found that, during adolescence, the medial prefrontal cortex-a part of the prefrontal cortex-activity in social cognition tasks decreases. This was further confirmed by another nine developmental fMRI studies. The decreasing in social cognition tasks refers to the inability of an adolescent understanding another person's perspective, mental or emotional state. Therefore, making the "typical" teenage behavior, in a scientific sense, completely normal.
The second study would require the individual to move shelved objects from one shelf to another. That would occur twice; once through the directions of another person that has a different perspective of the objects-fewer objects are visible from his perspective but of the same nature with the ones that are visible-and once without direction from another person. In general, both adults and adolescents have more trouble being infallible with a director than without one. Without a director, both had a percentage of errors at 5%; with a director, adolescents were at 60%, and adults were at 50%. Subsequently, we witness a big gap in error-making between the two groups, showing that adolescents, in comparison to adults, have a harder time making correct social decisions in interactions that require using a different mentality, visual perspective, or being emotionally empathic.
Even though the invention of the MRI is an invention of the 21st century, the adolescent behavior is not. We have found evidence such "typical" teenage behavior, risk-taking and lack of understanding other perspectives, in old literature like Shakespeare. An emphasis is put on risk-taking since it is highly relevant in adolescent behavior. It has been proven that the limbic system is hypersensitive to the rewarding feeling of risk-taking, thus, it feels better to take a risk as an adolescent rather than as an adult. To add on to that, research has shown that the prefrontal cortex, which helps in stopping us from taking risks, is still in development during adolescence.
These findings strongly suggest the conclusion that adolescence is a crucial developmental period for our brains and it should be treated with such importance. The evidence shows great adaptability and susceptibility in the adolescent brain, making it perfect for learning. Instead of negative criticizing, and labels that signify anomalies, teens should be treated as individuals that are still undergoing important brain development.

The talk was done through a well-structured presentation, containing visual stimuli like data graphs, a model of the brain, and images of brain activity. It also provided facts about brain development during, mainly, adolescent and adult years. Some of those facts were sourced from their own findings, however, other studies have also confirmed them. Shortly after the introductory part of the presentation, Dr. Blakemore talked about her focus