Most teenagers explore their boundaries and at some point try things they were told were bad or warned against such as drinking alcohol, smoking at using recreational or party drugs. Some teens are more likely to do so with more conviction and persistence than others a phenomenon that has been explored in the largest brain imaging study to date.
Nearly 2000 participants aged 14 were involved in the study undergoing brain scans to determine whether there was any tangible difference in the brain networks between those teens who rebel to the greatest extent and those who do not appear inclined to engage in exploratory behaviour.
The researchers found differences in the area of the brain called the Orbito-Frontal Cortex (OFC) in those teens who had engaged in risky rebellious behaviours including drinking, smoking and experimenting with drugs. The OFC is involved in the cognitive process of decision making, it has a regulatory effect. Those teenagers who’s OFC was less active showed less inhibitory behaviour and were therefore more likely to explore and try new ‘rebellious activities’.
The research has shed some light on the symptoms of ADHD. Children and teens diagnosed with ADHD demonstrate a reduced ability to control impulsive behaviour. This however has been found to be manipulated by areas of the brain other than weaker OFC functioning. Therefore, a diagnosis of ADHD doesn’t automatically make a child or teen more likely to rebel.