Tag Archives: adolescence

Merry Christmas and Happy Regression

Setting aside religious significance, the holidays season tends to be a time when most adults focus on children and family, in that order. But interestingly enough adults, consciously or not, regress to their younger selves during this extended time with parents and family.

From the Guardian:

In a characteristically serene post at Zen Habits, Leo Babauta points out that holiday family gatherings can be “the ultimate mindfulness training ground”: if you can remain centred and calm in the middle of Christmas dinner, you can presumably do so anywhere.

True, I’m sure. But for any of us heading back to childhood homes in the next few days – or, for that matter, reuniting elsewhere with the people we spent our childhoods with – there’s one huge challenge to be overcome. I’m talking, of course, about the ferocious black hole that sucks adult children, and their parents, back into family roles from years or even decades ago, the moment they’ve reassembled under one roof.

Holiday regression is an experience so universal that even therapists who specialise in this sort of stuff tend to counsel Just Dealing With It. “Expect to regress,” writes one. “Regression can be sweet,” ventures another. Forget all the progress you thought you’d made towards becoming a well-functioning and responsible member of society. For a week or so, you might as well be 13 again.

Actually, the concept of regression, like so many handed down from Freud, is probably best thought of as a poetic metaphor; modern psychology provides no real reason to believe that you’re literally returning to an earlier stage of ego development when you start passive-aggressively point-scoring with your sister over the mulled wine. The crucial point about those old family roles is that they work: they’re time-tested ways that your family discovered, over years, that enabled it to hold together as a family. The roughly 20 years between birth and fleeing the nest, as the therapist Marie Hartwell-Walker points out, is “a whole lot of practice for making the family style and our role in it permanent.”

None of that means it’s always – or even usually – enjoyable to play those roles. But they serve a purpose: the family unit’s purpose, if not necessarily your own.

Much as psychotherapists are drawn to family dynamics when it comes to explaining this sort of thing, however, more mundane psychological factors are surely also at play. We’ve learned lots in recent years about the emotional-eliciting qualities of different environments, and their role in the formation of memories. (There’s even been some interesting work on what, exactly, people are hoping to re-experience when they seek out a lost childhood home.) If you’re sleeping in the bedroom you slept in as a child, how could you avoid taking on some of the characteristics of the child who formerly slept there?

Meanwhile, there’s the particular aroma of the family home. Smell, as Marcel Proust knew and recent research confirms, can be a peculiarly powerful trigger for memories. In short: a trip back home will always be a psychological minefield.

Is there anything to be done? One of the more interesting suggestions borrows from the field of “embodied cognition”, which refers to the way our mental lives are lived through, and are influenced by, our bodies. (For example, clenching a fist has been found to enhance willpower; folding your arms aids perseverance.)

Read the entire article here.

The Teen Brain: Work In Progress or Adaptive Network?

[div class=attrib]From Wired:[end-div]

Ever since the late-1990s, when researchers discovered that the human brain takes into our mid-20s to fully develop — far longer than previously thought — the teen brain has been getting a bad rap. Teens, the emerging dominant narrative insisted, were “works in progress” whose “immature brains” left them in a state “akin to mental retardation” — all titles from prominent papers or articles about this long developmental arc.

In a National Geographic feature to be published next week, however, I highlight a different take: A growing view among researchers that this prolonged developmental arc is less a matter of delayed development than prolonged flexibility. This account of the adolescent brain — call it the “adaptive adolescent” meme rather than the “immature brain” meme — “casts the teen less as a rough work than as an exquisitely sensitive, highly adaptive creature wired almost perfectly for the job of moving from the safety of home into the complicated world outside.” The teen brain, in short, is not dysfunctional; it’s adaptive. .

Carl Zimmer over at Discover gives us some further interesting insights into recent studies of teen behavior.

[div class=attrib]From Discover:[end-div]

Teenagers are a puzzle, and not just to their parents. When kids pass from childhood to adolescence their mortality rate doubles, despite the fact that teenagers are stronger and faster than children as well as more resistant to disease. Parents and scientists alike abound with explanations. It is tempting to put it down to plain stupidity: Teenagers have not yet learned how to make good choices. But that is simply not true. Psychologists have found that teenagers are about as adept as adults at recognizing the risks of dangerous behavior. Something else is at work.

Scientists are finally figuring out what that “something” is. Our brains have networks of neurons that weigh the costs and benefits of potential actions. Together these networks calculate how valuable things are and how far we’ll go to get them, making judgments in hundredths of a second, far from our conscious awareness. Recent research reveals that teen brains go awry because they weigh those consequences in peculiar ways.

… Neuroscientist B. J. Casey and her colleagues at the Sackler Institute of the Weill Cornell Medical College believe the unique way adolescents place value on things can be explained by a biological oddity. Within our reward circuitry we have two separate systems, one for calculating the value of rewards and another for assessing the risks involved in getting them. And they don’t always work together very well.

… The trouble with teens, Casey suspects, is that they fall into a neurological gap. The rush of hormones at puberty helps drive the reward-system network toward maturity, but those hormones do nothing to speed up the cognitive control network. Instead, cognitive control slowly matures through childhood, adolescence, and into early adulthood. Until it catches up, teenagers are stuck with strong responses to rewards without much of a compensating response to the associated risks.

[div class=attrib]More from theSource here.[end-div]

[div class=attrib]Image courtesy of Kitra Cahana, National Geographic.[end-div]