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How risk-taking changes a teenager's brain | Kashfia Rahman

TED Talks Daily podcast.

June 24

Why do teenagers sometimes make outrageous, risky choices? Do they suddenly become reckless, or are they just going through a natural phase? To find out, Kashfia Rahman -- winner of the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (and a Harvard freshman) -- designed and conducted an experiment to test how high school students respond to and get used to risk, and how it changes their still-developing brains. What she discovered about risk and decision-making could change how we think about why teens do what they do.

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this Ted Talk features psychology researcher Cash via Rahman recorded live at Ted Salon Imagine if 2019 support for Ted is brought to you by Wells Fargo. This is a commitment to better banking. This is Wells Fargo.


Have you ever tried to understand a teenager? It's exhausting, right? You must be puzzled by the fact that some teens do well in school, lead clubs and teams and volunteer in their communities. But they eat tide pods for an online challenge, speed and text while driving binge, drink and experiment with elicit drugs. How can so many teens be so smart, skilled and responsible and careless risk takers at the same time? When I was 16 while frequently observing my peers and person as well as on social media, I begin to wonder why so many teens took such crazy risks. It seems like getting a certificate from dare class in the fifth grade can stop them. What was even more alarming to me was that the more they exposed themselves to these harmful risks, the easier it became for them to continue taking risks. Now this confused me, but it also made me incredibly curious.

So as someone with a name that literally means to explore knowledge, I started searching for a scientific explanation. Now it's no secret that teens ages 13 to 18 are more prone to risk taking than Children or adults. But that makes them so daring. Do they suddenly become reckless? Or is this just a natural phase that they're going through well, Neuroscientists have already found evidence that the teen brain is still in the process of maturation and that this makes them exceptionally poor decision making, causing them to fall prey to risky behaviors. But in that case, the maturing brain is to blame, then wired teens more vulnerable than Children, even though their brains are more developed than those of Children. Also, not all teams in the world take risks at the same level. Are there some other underlying your unintentional causes, driving them to risk taking well?

This is exactly what I decided to research, so I found in my research on the base of a psychological process known as habituation, or simply what we refer to as getting used to it. Habituation explains how our brains adapt to some behaviors like y ing with repeated exposures, and this concept inspired me to design a project to determine if the same principle could be applied to the relentless rise of risk taking in teenagers. So I predicted that habituation to risk taking may have the potential to change the already vulnerable teenage brain by blunting or even eradicating the negative emotions associated with risk, like fear or guilt. I also thought because they would feel less fearful and guilty, this desensitization will lead them to even more risk taking. In short, I wanted to conduct a research study to answer one big question. Why do teens keep making outrageous choices that are harmful to their help and well being? But there was one big obstacle in my way to investigate this problem. I needed teenagers to experiment on laboratories and devices to measure their brain activity and teachers or professors to supervise me and guide me along the way I needed Resource is, But you see, I attended a high school in South Dakota with limited opportunity for scientific exploration.

My school had athletics bands, choir debate and other clubs, but there are no stem programs or research inventors, and the notion of high schoolers doing research or participating in a science fair. It was completely for it. Simply put, I didn't exactly have the ingredients to make a chef for the dish, and these obstacles were frustrated. But I was also a stubborn teenager, and as the daughter of Bangladeshi immigrants and one of just a handful of Muslim students in my high school in South Dakota, I often struggled to fit in, and I want to be someone with something to contribute to society, not just be deemed scarf wearing Brown Girl was an anomaly in my homogeneous hometown. I hope that by doing this research, I could establish this and how valuable scientific exploration could be for kids like me who didn't necessarily find their niche elsewhere. So with limited research opportunities,

inventiveness allowed me to overcome seemingly impossible obstacles. I became more creative in working with a variety of methodologies, materials and subjects. I transformed my unassuming school library into a laboratory and my peers into a lab rats. My enthusiastic geography teacher, who also happens to be my school's football coach, ended up as my cheerleader becoming my mentor to sign necessary paperwork and when it became logistically, impossibly to use a laboratory, electrons of LA Graffiti or E G. What are those electro devices used to measure emotional responses? I bought a portable E g had set with my own money instead of buying the new iPhone X that a lot of kids my age were saving up for. So finally, I started the research 86 students ages 13 to 18 from my high school using the computer cubicles in my school library. I haven't complete a computerized decision making simulation to measure their risk taking. Behavior is comparable. The ones in the real world like alcohol use,

drug use and gambling wearing the e G had set. The students completed the task 12 times over three days to mimic repeated risk exposures. A control panel on the EEG headset measured their various emotional responses attention, interest, excitement, frustration, guilt, stress levels and relax ation. They also raided their emotions on well validated emotion measuring scales. This meant that I have measured the process of habituation and its effects on decision make, and it took 29 days to complete this research. And with months of frantically drafting proposals meticulously computing data and a caffeinated days at 2 a.m. I was able to finalize my results, and the results showed that habituation to risk taking could actually change a teen's brain by altering their emotional levels, causing greater Ristic. The students emotions that were normally associated with risks like fear, stress,

guilt and nervousness as well as attention were high when they were first exposed to the risk simulator this curb their temptations and four self control, which prevented them from taking more risks. However, the more they're exposed to the risks through the simulator, the less fearful, guilty and stress they became. This causes situation in French. They were no longer able to feel the brain's natural fear and caution instincts, and also because they're teenagers and their brains are still underdeveloped. They became more interested and excited and thrill seeking behaviors. So what were the consequences? They lacked self control for logical decision making, took greater risks and made more humble choices. So the developing brain alone isn't to blame. The process of habituation also plays a key role in risk taking in risk escalation. Although a team's willingness to seek risk is largely a result of the structural and functional changes associated with their developing breaths,

the dangerous part that my research was able to highlight was that a habituation to risks can actually physically change a teen's brain and cause greater Ristic. So it's the combination of the immature team brain and the impact of habituation that is like a perfect storm to create more damaging effects. This research could help parents and the general public. I understand that teens are just wilfully ignoring warnings or simply defying parents by engaging an increasingly more dangerous behavior. The biggest hurdle there facing is there habituation to risks. All the physical, detectable and emotional functional changes the drive and control influence their over the top, mistaking. So, yes, we need policies that provide safer environments and limit exposures to high risks. We also need policies that reflect this insight. These results are a wake up call for teens to it shows them that the natural, unnecessary fear and guilt that protect them from unsafe situations actually become numb when they repeatedly choose risky behaviors. So what? This hope to share my findings with fellow teenagers and scientists?

I took my research to the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, or Ice F ah, culmination of over 1800 students from 75 countries, regions and territories who showcase their cutting edge research and inventions. It's like the Olympics of Science fair there. I was able to present my research to experts in neuroscience and psychology and garner valuable feedback. But perhaps the most memorable moments of the week was when the booming speakers suddenly uttered my name during the awards ceremony. I was in such disbelief that I question myself. Was this just another Lala land Wonder? Like at the Oscars? Luckily, it wasn't I really had won first place in the category of behavioral and social sciences. Needless to say, I was not only thrilled to have this recognition, but also the whole experience of science fair that validated my efforts, keeps my curiosity alive and strengthens my creativity,

perseverance and imagination. This still image of me experimenting in my school library may seem ordinary, but to me it represents a sort of inspiration. It reminds me that this process taught me to take risks. I know that might sound incredibly ironic, but I took risks realizing that unforeseen opportunities often come from risk taking. Not the hazard is negative type that I studied, but the good ones. The positive risks. The more risks I took, a more capable I felt of withstanding my unconventional circumstances, leading to more tolerance, resilience and patients for completing my project. And these lessons have led me to new ideas like is the opposite of negative risk taking. Also true Can positive was taking escalate with repeated exposures, this positive action build positive brain functioning? I think I just might have my next research idea


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