It's not teens' fault they're so worried about what others think about them: Their brains just might be that way, according to a small new study.
Researchers from Harvard University found that adolescents not only felt more embarrassed, but also had a peak of activation in the medial prefrontal cortex (a brain region that is known for developing later in life), as well as higher connectivity between this brain region and another region called the striatum, when they were put through a test where they were made to feel like they were being watched and socially evaluated.
The Psychological Science study included 69 people ranging in age from 8 to 23, who all underwent a social evaluation test with brain imaging. Researchers had the participants watch a screen telling them if a video camera put into an fMRI scanner was on, off, or "warming up." The participants were made to think that someone of their same age was on the other side of the camera watching them if the camera was on.
"Believing that a peer was actively watching them was sufficient to induce self-conscious emotion that rose in magnitude from childhood to adolescence and partially subsided into adulthood," the researchers found, in addition to the heightened activation in the particular brain regions among the adolescents.
The findings identify "adolescence as a unique period of the lifespan in which self-conscious emotion, physiological reactivity, and activity in specific brain areas converge and peak in response to being evaluated by others," study researcher Leah Somerville, a psychological scientist at the university, said in a statement.