Research Links Impulsive Decision Making in Teenagers to Weaker Working Memory

In a new study, published on Wednesday in the journal Child Development, psychologists from the University of Oregon have claimed that it is the working memory that moderates behaviour in teenagers.

The study collected data for 360 teens, aged between 12 and 15 over a period of two years. Herein, the researchers analyzed the participants’ working memory through a series of tests. They held that teenagers are mostly prone to making rash, risky decisions about sex, drugs and alcohol. Through their study, they wished to track the teens’ sexual activity.

The researchers held that it were the individual differences in brain's working memory, which could possibly affect the adolescents’ proclivity towards sex. As put forward by one of the psychologists, Atika Khurana, working memory is the ability to keep different things in mind when one is making decisions or problem solving. It allows an individual to draw on and use information to make decisions. This memory develops throughout the childhood and adolescent years.

The study found a strong correlation between poor working memory and the probability that a teen would have sex (usually unprotected sex) at a younger age. Even after taking into account factors like the teenagers' age, socioeconomic status and gender, the association held good.

Therefore, scientists are on the lookout for ways that can boost teenagers’ working memory. They downplayed the role of sex education citing that though teenagers were fed with information about safe sex, they did not have the cognitive capacity to actually use that information. However, they underscored the protective effect that parental involvement can have on influencing teen decisions.

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