MEDIA RELEASE: R00153 – 19 July 2016
A research team from Brock University has been awarded a $1.43-million grant for cutting-edge research into the risk-taking decisions of adolescents.
The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) funding stretches over five years for a project to study how two brain systems — one that increases motivation to seek rewards, and another that controls impulses — develop in adolescents.
While many parents of teenagers ask ‘What were you thinking?’ when confronting their child’s risky behaviour, the research aims to answer the question ‘How were you thinking?’ It looks to examine what happens in the brain of an adolescent when they’re tempted to do something that might endanger their health, particularly in moments of intense excitement with their friends.
The prevailing theory is that the impulse control part of the brain develops at a slower rate than the reward-seeking part.
“This theory suggests why adolescents sometimes do things that are risky for their health,” says Teena Willoughby, co-director of Brock University’s Centre for Lifespan Development and research team leader.
“But there hasn’t been a lot of research about how that theory directly translates into adolescents’ health behaviours. That’s where we come in: we’re going to look at the interaction between brain development and health-risk behaviours.”
The multi-disciplinary team of researchers will be pooling their expertise to examine how brain activity, genetics, endocrine status, physical fitness, personality and environmental factors interact to influence behaviours that pose health risks.
These behaviours include not only the obvious ones like substance abuse, smoking, drinking and risky sexual activity, but even physical inactivity and poor nutrition.
What’s unique about this study, says Willoughby, is that the researchers plan on recruiting 600 boys and girls ages eight to 13, who will be monitored over a five-year period.
The children and adolescents will fill out annual self-report surveys and will engage in various lab tasks.
This will enable researchers to assess whether there is support for the prevailing brain development theory.
Another intriguing question that the research aims to address is: Do brain changes lead to risk behaviours, or can behaviour such as being involved in sports or clubs enhance the brain’s development of impulse control?
Willoughby and her team will be working closely with 10 local, national and international partners, including: the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF); the Mental Health Commission of Canada; the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse; and Niagara Region Public Health, among others.
“This is outstanding because it recognizes both the high quality and impact of our research in adolescent development,” says Joffre Mercier, Associate Vice-President Research, Natural and Health Sciences. “We’re very proud of our researchers whose work is well recognized and competitive at the national and international levels.”
The CIHR is Canada’s federal funding agency for health research. Composed of 13 institutes, the agency collaborates with partners and researchers to support the discoveries and innovations that improve our health and strengthen our health-care system.
For more information or for assistance arranging interviews:
* Cathy Majtenyi, research communications/media relations specialist, firstname.lastname@example.org, 905-688-5550 x5789 or 905-321-0566
* Dan Dakin, Media Relations Officer, Brock University email@example.com, 905-688-5550 x5353 or 905-347-1970
– 30 –