Woord van de dag “social scaffolding”, of hoe het tienerbrein misschien anders werkt als mama er is

Opgelet, nu volgt een open deur, namelijk: tieners nemen vaker risico’s dan volwassenen. Wat minder geweten is, maar niet onlogisch is: ze doen dit minder als er een volwassene in de buurt is. Er bestaat hiervoor zelfs een naam: “social scaffolding”. Dit komt er op neer dat het feit dat er een volwassene in de buurt is, het brein in feite meer matuur doet werken.

Nu blijkt dat moeders in de buurt een andere invloed hebben dan enige andere volwassene (alhoewel de vaders niet betrokken werden in het onderzoek, daarover straks meer op het einde van deze blogpost). Terug lijkt me dat niet onlogisch, maar nieuw onderzoek stelt dat de breinprocessen effectief anders verlopen met mama in de buurt.

Christian Jarrett vat het onderzoek samen op BPS Digest:

João Moreira and his colleagues scanned the brains of 23 15-year-olds (9 girls) while they played a risk-based game that involved going through a set of 26 traffic lights as quickly as possible and deciding at each set whether to accelerate or brake as the lights turned amber. Accelerating saved time usually, but also carried the risk of a crash which would lead to a greater delay than braking. The teens played the game twice: once in the presence of their mother who was located in the scan control room, and the other time in the presence of an unfamiliar female professor who was described as an expert in adolescent driving behaviour (some played the game with mum present first, others with the stranger present first).

There was a tendency for the teens to take fewer risks when their mum was present, as compared with the professor, but this difference didn’t reach statistical significance. However, at a neural level there were statistically significant differences between the conditions: when mum was present, the teens’ brains showed more reward-related brain activity after making safe decisions and less reward-related brain activity after making risky decisions. Mum’s supervision seemed to make caution a more pleasurable approach, at least at a neural level.

There was also an important difference between conditions in terms of the functional connectivity between decision making and reward-related brain regions in the brain. In the mum condition, but not the adult stranger condition, there was a negative correlation in the activity between these regions: a more mature pattern typical of that seen in adults.

Finally, the teens’ brains showed more activity in regions associated with perspective-taking when taking risks in the mum condition, perhaps suggesting they were concerned with what she might think.

Toch is er wel nogal wat aan te merken op dit onderzoek. De steekproef is ontzettend klein en er werd geen echte nulmeting gedaan. Meer nog: hoe zit het met vaders? En wat is de invloed van de relatie tussen moeder en kind?

Concreet betekent dit dat het onderzoek een interessante piste aanreikt voor vooral verder onderzoek.

Abstract van het onderzoek:

Adolescent decision-making is highly sensitive to input from the social environment. In particular, adult and maternal presence influence adolescents to make safer decisions when encountered with risky scenarios. However, it is currently unknown whether maternal presence confers a greater advantage than mere adult presence in buffering adolescent risk taking. In the current study, 23 adolescents completed a risk-taking task during an fMRI scan in the presence of their mother and an unknown adult. Results reveal that maternal presence elicits greater activation in reward-related neural circuits when making safe decisions but decreased activation following risky choices. Moreover, adolescents evidenced a more immature neural phenotype when making risky choices in the presence of an adult compared to mother, as evidenced by positive functional coupling between the ventral striatum and medial prefrontal cortex. Our results underscore the importance of maternal stimuli in bolstering adolescent decision-making in risky scenarios.

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