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“Galvan noted that the response pattern of teen brains is essentially the same response curve of a seasoned drug addict. Their reward center cannot be stimulated by low doses—they need the big jolt to get pleasure.”
Is it possible that teens are just neurologically prone to boredom? According to the work of neuroscientist Dr. Adriana Galvan at UCLA, there’s good reason to think so. Inside our brains is a reward center, involving the nucleus accumbens, which lights up with dopamine whenever we find something exciting or interesting or pleasurable. In a study comparing the brains of teens to the brains of adults and young kids, Galvan found that teen brains can’t get pleasure out of doing things that are only mildly or moderately rewarding.
Young kids find any sort of reward thrilling, so their brains lit up the same amount, no matter how much gold they won. Adult brains lit up according to the size of the reward: single coin, small pleasure response, big pile, big pleasure response. The teen brains did not light up in response to winning the small or medium reward—in fact, the nucleus accumbens activity dipped below baseline, as if they were crestfallen. Only to the big pile of gold did their reward center light up—and then it really lit up, signaling more activity than kids or adults ever showed. Galvan noted that the response pattern of teen brains is essentially the same response curve of a seasoned drug addict. Their reward center cannot be stimulated by low doses—they need the big jolt to get pleasure.
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