Brock University researchers study risk-taking behaviour

Have you ever seen a kid or a teenager do something stupid and wondered what was going on in their brain? Kids playing Pokémon Go stare at their phones and walk into traffic, or sneak into restricted areas for the sake of catching a rare or interesting Pokémon. Not to mention young people perform dangerous stunts and ‘challenges’ in order to produce a viral YouTube video.  It seemed like a good idea at the time is a common enough phrase.

A group of researchers at Brock University aims to find out just what is going on in the heads of young people with a $1.43 million grant for five years of research from the Canadian Institute of Health Research.

The Canadian institute of Health Research is Canada’s federal funding agency for health research. Composed of 13 institutes, the agency collaborates with partners and researchers to support the discoveries and innovations that improve our health and strengthen our health-care system.

Teena Willoughby, co-director of Brock University’s Centre for Lifespan Development and research team leader, said in a press release that the theory is that the part of the brain responsible for impulse control actually develops slower than the part of the brain responsible for reward seeking. In other words, kids see the potential rewards for a potentially harmful behavior before they see the risks.Sept.Spec.Adolecents

“There hasn’t been a lot of research about how that theory directly translates into adolescents’ health behaviours,” says Willoughby. “That’s where we come in: we’re going to look at the interaction between brain development and health-risk behaviours.”

The team consists of researchers from various disciplines and will take a look at things like brain activity, genetics, endocrine status, physical fitness, personality and environmental factors interact to influence behaviours that pose health risks.

The research, taking place over five years, will follow 600 children aged eight to 13 at the beginning of the study and will include surveys and lab tasks.

Potentially dangerous behaviours being explored include drinking, drugs, and sexual activity, as well as activities that one might not associate with high risk: physical inactivity and poor nutrition.

The team will also look into whether positive behaviours such as involvement in sports or clubs can have a positive effect on the development of the brain’s impulse control.


Joanna Ward, Specialty News Editor 

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