Higher levels of pleasure sensation in teens were related to higher levels of brain activity in the brain’s pleasure center in response to rewards by new research conducted by Emily Barkley-Levenson and Adriana Galván at the University of California Los Angeles that was published in the Jan. 13, 2014, edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The researchers compared the responses of 19 adults and 22 adolescents to a reward involved in a gambling task. Each run of the gambling scenario involved the opportunity to win 50 percent of the time and to lose 50 percent of the time. Money was used as a reward because money means more to teens than it does to adults because teens have a lower ability to obtain money than adults.
Adolescents demonstrated much higher levels of nerve activity in the ventral striatum that adults did despite the resulting rewards being almost identical.
The researchers indicate that the organic development of the ventral striatum in adolescents has not achieved the number of neural connections that exist in adult brains. The researchers offer this physical explanation for the higher level of reaction in teens to a reward than the reaction of adults to the same reward.
The organic basis of reward seeking in teens could be extended to teen sexual indulgence, the use of alcohol and drugs, and the overuse of technology like cell phones and texting. Equivalent behaviors in adults may be the result of the same lack of organic neural development.