Summary: A new study reveals the influence testosterone levels play in adolescent decision making.
Source: Max Planck Institute.
Impulsivity is related to pubertal status.
In a series of studies conducted at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development, researchers have examined risky and impulsive decision behavior in adolescence. A study recently published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology is the first to investigate the influence of testosterone on adolescents’ decisions. Patience isn’t their strongest suit: Adolescents often want immediate results, even when it would pay to wait. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development and the University of California, Berkeley, attribute this impatience to the surge in testosterone levels during puberty. In a recently published study, they have investigated the role that hormones play in adolescents’ impulsive decisions. Because boys are more impulsive than girls, the researchers focused on boys aged between 11 and 14 years.
Sensitivity to immediate rewards
To gauge the pubertal status of the participants, the researchers collected morning saliva samples from 72 adolescents and determined their testosterone levels. Participants then completed a choice task that gauged their impulsivity: They had to make a total of 80 choices between two hypothetical amounts of money available either soon or further in the future. Specifically, they had to choose between a smaller sooner reward and a larger later reward.
The results showed that most of the adolescents were more likely to choose immediate rewards. On average, about two-thirds of the participants opted for the smaller sum of money that was available sooner. The researchers think that sensitivity to immediate rewards is associated with the effects of testosterone on certain reward-related regions of the brain, such as the striatum. Chronological age cannot explain this sensitivity. It is only with increasing age that the timing of the reward becomes less important. “Our study shows that puberty—measured in terms of physical and hormonal maturity—needs to be properly accounted for in developmental psychological studies. Developmental differences are often not in line with chronological age,” says lead author Corinna Laube of the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin.
Control network in the brain matures more slowly
The results are another step toward understanding adolescents’ impulsive decisions and complement the findings of a previous study conducted at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development. According to that study, teenage impulsivity is attributable to an imbalance in the maturation of the subcortical affective brain network, the cortical cognitive control network, and the connections between the two. The affective network—especially the striatum—which is involved in the anticipation and valuation of rewards, matures earlier than the control network and its connections. With increasing age, the connection with the control network strengthens, and young people learn to be patient and wait for future rewards. A follow-up study is now being conducted to investigate the function of testosterone within these networks: To what extent does testosterone influence the imbalance in the maturation of different brain regions and thus explain young people’s susceptibility to making impulsive decisions?
“Impulsivity is part of growing up and healthy development. By being impulsive teenagers learn new skills that they need to live independent lives. But their impulsive behavior can also cause them harm,” says co-author Wouter van den Bos of the Max Planck Institute for Human Development. Our findings indicate that it may be advisable to reward adolescents’ good behavior in the short term, instead of promising rewards at some time in the distant future.
About this neuroscience research article
Source: Nicole Siller – Max Planck Institute Image Source: NeuroscienceNews.com image is in the public domain. Original Research: Abstract for “Dissociable effects of age and testosterone on adolescent impatience” by Corinna Laube, Ahna Ballonoff Suleiman, Megan Johnson, Ronald E. Dahl, and Wouter van den Bos in Psychoneuroendocrinology. Published online March 16 2017 doi:10.1016/j.psyneuen.2017.03.012
[cbtabs][cbtab title=”MLA”]Max Planck Institute “Adolescent Impatience Increases As Testosterone Rises.” NeuroscienceNews. NeuroscienceNews, 15 May 2017. <https://neurosciencenews.com/testosterone-impatience-teens-6683/>.[/cbtab][cbtab title=”APA”]Max Planck Institute (2017, May 15). Adolescent Impatience Increases As Testosterone Rises. NeuroscienceNew. Retrieved May 15, 2017 from https://neurosciencenews.com/testosterone-impatience-teens-6683/[/cbtab][cbtab title=”Chicago”]Max Planck Institute “Adolescent Impatience Increases As Testosterone Rises.” https://neurosciencenews.com/testosterone-impatience-teens-6683/ (accessed May 15, 2017).[/cbtab][/cbtabs]
Dissociable effects of age and testosterone on adolescent impatience
The onset of adolescence is associated with an increase in transgressive behaviours—from juvenile delinquency to substance use and unprotected sex—that are often attributed to increased impulsiveness. In the past, this increase was ascribed to “raging hormones”; more recently, to an imbalance in the maturation of different brain regions. However, it remains unclear how these large-scale biological changes impact specific processes that result in impulsive decisions, namely, sensitivity to immediate rewards and general discounting of future options. To gain further insight into these questions, we used an intertemporal choice task to investigate the role of testosterone in impatient decision-making in boys at the developmental transition to adolescence (N = 72, ages 11–14). Our results suggest that increased testosterone (but not age) is related to increased sensitivity to immediate rewards, whereas increased age (but not testosterone) is related to a reduction in general impatience. These results are discussed in the context of recent neurobiological models of adolescent development.
“Dissociable effects of age and testosterone on adolescent impatience” by Corinna Laube, Ahna Ballonoff Suleiman, Megan Johnson, Ronald E. Dahl, and Wouter van den Bos in Psychoneuroendocrinology. Published online March 16 2017 doi:10.1016/j.psyneuen.2017.03.012