Nurture or Nature? Are we hard-wired to take risks?

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MRI head scan (stock image). "Our findings are crucial in that they help 

identify potential brain biomarkers that, when taken into context with 

behavioral differences, may help identify which adolescents are at 
risk for dangerous and pathological behaviors in the future."


The old Nurture or Nature debate is making a course change in favor of nature.

It appears that a significant part of our behavior is programmed into us genetically such as a belief in a supreme being, conservative and liberal preferences, and more.

Yet, we're still in the early days of the scientific revolution.  As has been pointed out many times by many people, of all the scientists who have ever lived or worked almost all are living and working today.  The wealth of knowledge we're gaining now is just the leading edge of a tidal wave that will completely change the way we live over the next few generations.

Getting back to the Nature or Nurture debate: for years it was a debate without evidence until just the very recent past.  As revolutionary new techniques are applied to this age old question, we're finding that more and more of our behavior is genetically programmed. 

Taking risks appears to be one of these "programs."  Have you ever wondered why some people do the most hazardous things that others would never even consider?  It appears to be in our genetic heredity.

Of course, understanding this impacts our work as writers.  Aren't most of us writers because we were born this way?  I wanted to write from my earliest memories.

The opportunity to writers of this research, is that it realistically opens the possibility of programming people's behavior, or changing the programs that control behavior.  Perhaps instead of jailing people for anti-social behavior, they can be re-programmed - along with all the risks that re-programming would include.

Here's the report on risk taking, specifically risk taking in adolescents.


Brain imaging shows brain differences in risk-taking teens

Brain differences associated with risk-taking teens have been investigated by researchers who found that connections between certain brain regions are amplified in teens more prone to risk. "Our brains have an emotional-regulation network that exists to govern emotions and influence decision-making," explained the study's lead author. "Antisocial or risk-seeking behavior may be associated with an imbalance in this network."

According to the Center for Disease Control, unintentional injuries are the leading cause of death for adolescents. Compared to the two leading causes of death for all Americans, heart disease and cancer, a pattern of questionable decision-making in dire situations comes to light in teen mortality. New research from the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas investigating brain differences associated with risk-taking teens found that connections between certain brain regions are amplified in teens more prone to risk.

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"Our brains have an emotional-regulation network that exists to govern emotions and influence decision-making," explained the study's lead author, Sam Dewitt. "Antisocial or risk-seeking behavior may be associated with an imbalance in this network."

The study, published June 30 in Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, looked at 36 adolescents ages 12-17; eighteen risk-taking teens were age- and sex-matched to a group of 18 non-risk-taking teens. Participants were screened for risk-taking behaviors, such as drug and alcohol use, sexual promiscuity, and physical violence and underwent functional MRI (fMRI) scans to examine communication between brain regions associated with the emotional-regulation network. Interestingly, the risk-taking group showed significantly lower income compared to the non-risk taking group.

"Most fMRI scans used to be done in conjunction with a particular visual task. In the past several years, however, it has been shown that performing an fMRI scan of the brain during a 'mind-wandering' state is just as valuable,"said Sina Aslan, Ph.D., President of Advance MRI and Adjunct Assistant Professor at the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas."In this case, brain regions associated with emotion and reward centers show increased connection even when they are not explicitly engaged."

The study, conducted by Francesca Filbey, Ph.D., Director of Cognitive Neuroscience Research of Addictive Behaviors at the Center for BrainHealth and her colleagues, shows that risk-taking teens exhibit hyperconnectivity between the amygdala, a center responsible for emotional reactivity, and specific areas of the prefrontal cortex associated with emotion regulation and critical thinking skills.

The researchers also found increased activity between areas of the prefrontal cortex and the nucleus accumbens, a center for reward sensitivity that is often implicated in addiction research.

"Our findings are crucial in that they help identify potential brain biomarkers that, when taken into context with behavioral differences, may help identify which adolescents are at risk for dangerous and pathological behaviors in the future," Dewitt explained.

He also points out that even though the risk-taking group did partake in risky behavior, none met clinical criteria for behavioral or substance use disorders.

By identifying these factors early on, the research team hopes to have a better chance of providing effective cognitive strategies to help risk-seeking adolescents regulate their emotions and avoid risk-taking behavior and substance abuse.
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Related posts:

NURTURE or NATURE: Are we born this way? Or is behavior learned?

Story Source: Materials provided by Center for BrainHealth. Samuel J. DeWitt, Sina Aslan, Francesca M. Filbey. Adolescent risk-taking and resting state functional connectivity. Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, 2014

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