Science Pops Open, Ep. 6: Awaiting Balance in the Adolescent Brain

Research fellows of the AXA Research Fund tell the story of their work to reduce an array of risks

Do you remember your teenage years? Who can forget! Adolescence is a time of discovery, but also of risk-taking. Dr. Kiki Zanolie wanted to know why: What, specifically, is happening in teenagers’ brains to make them knowingly run risks? The results of her studies of brain regions involved in decision-making may hold an answer to that question.

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Adolescence: Whether it was relatively peaceful or full of teen angst, none of us is likely to forget it. It is a special time in life, when we begin discovering who we might become, exploring the possibilities…and taking all of the risks that accompany experimenting with life! Kiki Zanolie wanted to understand what was happening in the adolescent brain to cause all this risk-taking (and worrying of parents everywhere). As teens, our brains are still developing; in what way, specifically, may hold the answer to that question.

Certain areas of the brain are important for making decisions: one is involved on the emotional level, another in helping us plan our behavior or stop it when we know it’s harmful. Dr. Zanolie’s work has shown that, during adolescence, the emotional zone has already developed, but its rational counterpart has not. This imbalance could explain why teens in social settings, with emotions fully charged, may make choices they know to be risky. This is a perfectly normal part of growing up, but Dr. Zanolie hopes that, by understanding what adolescents are experiencing and why, we can help them safely navigate their sometimes tumultuous teen years.

Listen to Kiki explain how this balancing act plays out in the teenage brain, in this short interview from the 2014 AXA Pop Days:

Next Monday:

Reservoirs are important for more than storing water: they allow us to manage and control the huge amounts of water that pass through our communities, reducing the damage caused by both floods and droughts. Luciano Raso is working on optimizing reservoir management systems in order to maximize control over our water resources, while limiting costs. The challenges are both technical and political, he says – the perfect combination for this engineer.


More Episodes of Science Pops Open:

Ep. 1 – Your body can defend itself against cancer. It just needs a little help!, with Margot Cucchetti 

Ep. 2 – Improving outcomes of crisis and conflict, thanks to an ethnographic outlook, with Ruben Andersson

Ep. 3 – After an Earthquake, the Show Must Go On, with Anna Reggio

Ep. 4 – Disrupting the Sleeping Sickness Symphony, with Fabien Guegan

Ep. 5 – Optimizing Welfare…and Equality, with Sean Slack

Ep. 6 – Awaiting Balance in the Adolescent Brain, with Kiki Zanolie

Ep. 7 – Come Drought or High Water, with Luciano Raso

Ep. 8 – Taking European Tornadoes by Storm, with Bogdan Antonescu

Ep. 9 – Learning to Tackle Climate Change Together, with Sandrine Sidze

Ep. 10 – Nourish the Children of Urban Slums, with Sophie Goudet

Ep. 11 – In Money Matters, We're Only Human, with Jeroen Nieboer

Ep. 12 – A Depressed Sense of Smell?, with Kalliopi Apazoglou

Ep. 13 – Climate Shifts Carried on a River of Air, with Nikolaos Bakas

Ep. 14 – Something in the Air Down There, with Fulvio Amato

Ep. 15 – Foretelling a Complex Future for our Complex Ecosystems, with Phillip Staniczenko

Ep. 16 – From Childhood Illness to Innovative Antibiotics, with Agata Starosta

Ep. 17 – Plants & Poisons: Assessing Contamination in Our Environment, with Natalia Ospina-Alvarez

Ep. 18 – Voice of a Storm Surge, with Emiliano Renzi