Puberty Makes You Stupid

Meghan Holohan

Even though the negative consequences of sexting are well known, teenagers still text naked pictures to their peers. To many adults, this seems stupid—like the hundreds of other things teens do. Before yelling at your teen for her stupidity, you might want to consider new findings that show puberty makes teens stupid.

Well, teenage mice.

Researchers at the State University of New York Downstate Medical Center—led by Sheryl Smith—devised a complex task that required mice to learn how to avoid a moving platform, which delivered a mild shock. Understanding such a skill is higher-order learning, which takes multiple attempts to grasp. Smith says that both prepubescent and post-pubescent mice quickly mastered the obstacle, while pubescent mice struggled to overcome the barrier.

Changes that occur in the hippocampus during puberty negatively impact the brain's ability to remember and integrate learning. Such changes affect GABA neurotransmitters, which work to sedate the neurosystem. During puberty, female mice undergo a 700 percent increase in GABA receptors, which calm the nervous system except when the mice are stressed out. In teenage mice, this receptor keys up nerves and raises anxiety. As the mice aged, the receptors decreased— Smith and her colleagues realized these receptors make it difficult for the mice to learn.