Parade Magazine has a good article on the teenage brain in today’s edition (if your Sunday newspaper doesn’t carry it, check it out at www.Parade.com/teens). Among the interesting findings scientists have discovered over the last few years thanks to PET scans and fMRI machines is that there really is a biological reason that teens interpret adult comments and facial expressions incorrectly. Ever had that happen? You literally are guilty of a glance—a misinterpreted glance. What was not a look of disgust or an angry voice tone (or even a look meant for anyone at all) can be interpreted as that by a teen. It can happen during a conversation with a teen or when you’re not even interacting with them. “Why are you looking at me like that?! Why are you so mad at me?” says the teen, and we say, “What are you talking about?” and they say, “Don’t act like you don’t know!!” and an argument is at hand. And the adult is left totally bewildered. We shrug it off as “touchiness” or “hormones” but now thanks to science, we can understand it a little better.
According to the article, a teen uses a different part of their brain than an adult, a small region called the amygdala, to identify and process emotions, while adults use the frontal cortex, which governs reason and forethought. Teens and adults in a study were hooked up to an fMRI machine and showed photos of people in different emotional states, and their brains and identifications of the emotions were compared. (If you want to have fun with this, check out one of the photos used, at the Parade link— it’s about halfway down the page. Have your kids look at it, too, before reading further. Okay, done? The correct answer is fear, which Parade says was given by 100% of adults, while only 50% of teens got it right.
I said, “fear”, too. I showed the photo to Allison and Cleo soon after they woke up this morning and they both gave wrong answers—Allison said “Anger” and Cleo said “Surprise”. Very interesting! I let them know about the study (and the brain research) and am going to remind Allison of that in the future when I am accused of feeling something I don’t feel!
I showed Andy the photo, too, and he interpreted the emotion as “surprise”. Hmmm… makes me wonder if all the adults in that study’s comparison group were female, because we all know that “men are from Mars and women are from Venus”…and that our husbands are our “extra teenagers”!