Why teenagers squirm when dads hit the dance floor

September 29th, 2008 - 7:10 pm ICT by ANI  

London, Sept 29 (ANI): Very often you find yourself cringing with embarrassment when your father dons that floral shirt or gets up to shake-a-leg with your pals at your birthday party. And now scientists have proposed an explanation to such behaviour amongst teenagers.
The scientists allege that the adolescent brain process the emotions of embarrassment and guilt differently from those of adults.
In the first of its brain-scan study for observing adolescent behaviour, researchers at University College London identified clear differences in brain activity when teenagers and adults were asked to think about social emotions.
Led by Stephanie Burnett and Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, the study found that both teens and adults use the same parts of the brain when processing emotions such as disgust and fear, which do not involve the opinions of other people.
But their scans displayed clear contrasts when they think about embarrassment or guilt.
Thus, researchers explained by saying that while adolescents make use of a particular part of the brain, called the medial prefrontal cortex, when considering these feelings, adults do not.
The findings have long-term implications, as they can even elucidate conditions such as eating disorders and anxiety, which gets pronounced after puberty and are affected by people’’s self-image. “It is well-known anecdotally that teenagers are particularly susceptible to embarrassment caused by family and parents, and they”re much more embarrassed in front of friends than strangers,” Times Online quoted Blakemore, as saying.
She added: “Studies by social psychologists confirm this. One of the best ways of illustrating it is an anecdote told by one of my friends who has teenage daughters. Before they reached puberty, if they were messing around in a shop, he”d get them to stop by promising to sing their favourite song. After puberty, he”d get them to stop by threatening to sing their favourite song.”
He claimed that the phenomenon could be explained by the differences in activity in the medial prefrontal cortex, which is involved in processing social emotions and planning.
“If teenagers have more activity in this part of the brain when they are thinking about being embarrassed, it might explain why they are more susceptible to embarrassment,” said Blakemore.
However, she claimed that it’’s still not clear if the brain activity was a cause or an effect of heightened sensitivity to embarrassment.
For the study, the researchers recruited 19 girls aged between 10 and 19 and ten adult women, aged between 22 and 32. Later, brain scans of all the subjects were taken by using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), while they were asked to imagine a string of emotional experiences.
Examples designed to stir up embarrassment included thinking about your father dancing in the supermarket, and dribbling food down your top while eating with a friend.
Many other thoughts were designed to invoke guilt, and disgust and fear. They were used as controls because they are not dependent on the particular reactions of onlookers.
According to Blakemore, the research could eventually have implications for medical conditions and for education.
She said anorexia and bulimia, were “among the reasons why people are doing this research. Anxiety, depression and eating disorders all increase hugely in prevalence after puberty.”
The study is published in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience. (ANI)

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