How the brain developed the line of speech

Cognition: How the Adolescent Brain Works

So it is hardly surprising that the most promising interventions respond to young people's desire for status and respect, but also to their need to contribute and find meaning. Particularly successful volunteer programs allow young people to make decisions and reflect on their work, reports Fuligni. The projects also felt useful.

Psychologist David Yeager of the University of Texas at Austin has researched how best to formulate messages to teenagers and how their effectiveness is related to pubertal maturation and the neurochemical changes in the brain that go with it. "If you communicate respectfully and authentically with teenagers and support their autonomy and independence, then you should actually be able to demonstrate greater effects in adolescents - all the more so if they are not yet at the very beginning of their puberty," explains Yeager.

In fact, his research so far has confirmed that. An example of this is an experiment by Yeager's team on taking medication: The way in which adolescents are asked to take a medication also determines whether they should follow the instruction - which is also related to the testosterone level. When a group of young adults entered the laboratory, they received rather condescending instructions: I am the expert; I know what's good for you take this. The other group, however, was respectfully asked to take it: Let me explain why this drug can be useful.

For ethical reasons, of course, the drug was not real, it was just a spoonful of Vegemite, a notoriously unpleasant-tasting vitamin supplement. The result: Adolescents who were respectfully asked to take the Vegemite were twice as likely as the comparison group. The researchers also found significantly lower testosterone levels in the participants who took the drug even though they were disrespectfully asked to do so - they also consented more often when asked respectfully. In a second attempt, Yeager and his team manipulated testosterone levels with a nasal inhaler. Now adolescents with naturally low testosterone levels suddenly behaved in exactly the same way as those with naturally high testosterone levels.

"If you communicate respectfully and authentically with teenagers and support their autonomy and independence, then you should be able to see greater effects" (David Yeager, psychologist)

The experiment was "a nice test" to investigate the importance of respect in communication with young people, says Yeager. He considers the nutritional study on unsavory practices in the food industry, which his team published in 2019 in the journal "Nature Human Behavior", to be even more informative. "It is the first direct evidence that pubertal hormones sensitize adolescents to status and respect and change how they react to health messages," summarizes Yeager, "and not just how they react to the messages at the moment of the intervention , but also how they internalize them and how they react to them in retrospect. "

The field of research has thus been able to work out more clearly why some young people build a wall around themselves and oppose adults when they want to get them to change habits, beliefs or coping methods. This knowledge offers opportunities to break through such walls. It is important, says Yates, to work with the sensitivities of young people and not against them. For adults - especially those who deal with children and adolescents - the realization is hopefully a wake-up call.