Neuroscientists have finally found a way to predict whether kids will be druggies when they grow up. It turns out that it largely depends on one factor: how much they love money.
A new study posits that adolescents basically fit into one of two categories. Either they have “novelty-seeking tendencies” (they’re motivated primarily by stimulation) or “reward anticipation” (they’re motivated primarily by receiving money). The ones who get off on money don’t seem to need other “novelty” stimulations in their life as much. The ones who don’t get jazzed by money need some other way to get their kicks.
This is not a psychological difference. It’s a physical difference in the brain.
The study went like this: an international research team took brain scan data from the IMAGEN Consortium which took MRIs of 144 14 year-olds. While they were getting their brain peaked at, the adolescents completed a “Monetary Incentive Delay Task” which measured the activity in the brain when it responds to being rewarded with money.
The substance use of these adolescents was then measured as they became teenagers. And it turned out the ones who weren’t as into money were more into drug use, and vice-versa. The results were published in the journal Nature.
“We found that at age 14, high novelty seekers who had less of a neural response to anticipated reward were more likely to use substances at age 16,” Brian Knutson, one of the researchers of the study and works at Stanford University, told WIRED.
By “substances” Knutson means tobacco, alcohol, and cannabis. Not the hard stuff, which is much rarer in those studied.
This provides insights into teenage thinking, but still leaves many questions. For instance, is it possible for teens to be motivated by something other than drugs or money?
The adolescents with “novelty-seeking tendencies,” the druggies, are also the ones most likely to get into humanity-beneficial behavior like scientific research. That’s why today’s researchers want to figure out a way to rewire the brains of these potential geniuses/burnouts with “more powerful but alternative rewarding activities,” as Knutson said.
Photo via Flickr user Chris Potter