CLOSE
Shutterstock
Shutterstock

5 Reasons Teenagers Act the Way They Do

Shutterstock
Shutterstock

For everyone who is or was a teen, here are some scientific explanations for why they behave that way.

1. Risk Taking

All teenagers take stupid risks that they one day look back on and wonder what the heck they were thinking. But studies have found it is not because teens aren’t thinking about the risks involved—it’s because they think about them longer than adults.

Yes, that’s counter-intuitive. But think of it like this: If you are on a diet and see a piece of yummy chocolate cake, are you more likely to eat it if you just glance at it, remember you are trying to eat healthy, and walk away, or if you sit there and mull over the pros and cons of eating it? The latter, obviously.

It’s the same with the teen brain. Our brains take a lot longer to fully form than was previously thought. In teens, the frontal lobe (where our decision making happens) is not as connected to the rest of the brain as it is later in life. This means teens literally cannot come to a decision as fast as an adult. Teens take an average of 170 milliseconds longer to go over the consequences of a decision, which in turn makes them more likely to decide the risk is worth it.

2. Giving in to Peer Pressure

Adding friends to the mix makes it even harder for teens to avoid taking risks.

Adults wonder why their kids' friends can influence them so much. That’s because once you are an adult, your brain has quite literally grown out of it.

One study using MRI scans on adults and teens showed that their brains reacted very differently to the presence of friends when making a decision. It found that teens who would not take risks when alone or with an adult were far more likely to take risks when their friends were watching. The scans showed that the reward center of the teen brain became much more active in the company of their peers. In college students and adults, however, the reward center’s activity remained at a constant level no matter who was watching.

This means that teens, when spending that tiny bit of extra time deciding what choice to make, are also fighting against the overwhelming internal drive that tells us to do things that feel good. As the brain develops in adulthood, however, that connection ends and we end up getting no extra good feeling from taking risks in front of our friends.

3. Lack of Concentration

While teens may look more like adults than kids, to a neuroscientist their brains resemble a child's. That’s part of the reason teens suddenly start acting like toddlers again around age 14. While their bodies are aging, their brain is rearranging itself in a way that temporarily makes it act the same way it did when they were younger.

When scientists looked at how teenagers’ brains functioned while they were distracted during an assigned task, they found a large amount of activity in that darn frontal lobe again, far more than they would in an adult. Teens have too much active grey matter in that area, something that decreases as we get older. This means their brain is trying to take in and process everything going on around it, literally overloading them. The more streamlined adult brain works more efficiently, making concentrating on one thing much easier.

But if you are in your twenties and have been feeling cocky up until this point, it’s important to note that this chaotic brain makeup doesn’t completely settle down until your early thirties.

4. Overly Emotional

If teens seem to not care about other people’s feelings or seem to flip out over nothing, it might not be because they are drama queens. Studies have found that teens have a much harder time correctly interpreting vocal inflection and facial expressions from other people, and so they sometimes react irrationally to emotional situations.

One study showed teens and adults pictures like this:

Image via PBS

What emotion do you think that woman is feeling? If you’re not a teenager you probably answered fear, just like every single adult in the study did. But while some teens identified fear, 50% of them saw anger, or even shock. All of the participants were hooked up to MRI machines while they looked at these images, and an analysis of the scans showed that adults and teens used two completely different parts of their brains to come to a decision on what emotions the people were feeling.

The teens were using a part of the brain called the amygdala, which largely controls emotions, while the most active part of the adult brain was the part controlling logic and reason. That means that if you are expressing an emotion—say, disappointment—a teen’s brain has a 50% chance of misinterpreting it as a different emotion, like anger. Then, since the emotional part of their brain is already active from making that (incorrect) judgment, they become more likely to react irrationally and over the top.

5. Getting Dumber

Parents of teens often wonder what happened to the bright child they used to have. How can someone go from getting A's to getting C's when they seem to be doing the same amount of work? Once again, changes in the brain are to blame. While the merits of IQ tests are debatable, scientists used to think IQ stayed the same over one’s lifetime. Now it turns out that number can fluctuate widely in adolescence.

All the extra grey matter we talked about starts to die off as you get older. When you are young, that grey stuff has lots of extra synapses that help your brain store and process information. But as you age, your brain starts killing off the bits that don’t get used as often. Scientists used to think there was only one major “surge” of synapse “pruning” when we were children, but brain scans of teens have shown that one just as large happens at the beginning of adolescence.

This makes sense biologically; why should your brain waste energy remembering things that aren’t very necessary to your day to day life? It’s one of the reasons that younger children can learn a second language much faster than adults; they have more synapses to store that information. And if they keep speaking that second language often enough, they will remember it the rest of their lives.

But if there is a subject they didn’t concentrate so hard on, like math, suddenly they start forgetting things they used to know because the brain is deleting that information.
* * *
At this point, we’re shocked anyone makes it to age twenty. Or as Mark Twain said, “When a child turns 12, he should be kept in a barrel and fed through the bung hole, until he reaches 16 ... at which time you plug the bung hole.”

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Echo Bridge Home Entertainment
arrow
entertainment
15 Must-See Holiday Horror Movies
Echo Bridge Home Entertainment
Echo Bridge Home Entertainment

Families often use the holidays as an excuse to indulge in repeat viewings of Planes, Trains and Automobiles and Elf. But for a certain section of the population, the yuletide is all about horror. Although it didn’t truly emerge until the mid-1970s, “holiday horror” is a thriving subgenre that often combines comedy to tell stories of demented Saint Nicks and lethal gingerbread men. If you’ve never seen Santa slash someone, here are 15 movies to get you started.

1. THANKSKILLING (2009)

Most holiday horror movies concern Christmas, so ThanksKilling is a bit of an anomaly. Another reason it’s an anomaly? It opens in 1621, with an axe-wielding turkey murdering a topless pilgrim woman. The movie continues on to the present-day, where a group of college friends are terrorized by that same demon bird during Thanksgiving break. It’s pretty schlocky, but if Turkey Day-themed terror is your bag, make sure to check out the sequel: ThanksKilling 3. (No one really knows what happened to ThanksKilling 2.)

2. BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974)

Fittingly, the same man who brought us A Christmas Story also brought us its twisted cousin. Before Bob Clark co-wrote and directed the 1983 saga of Ralphie Parker, he helmed Black Christmas. It concerns a group of sorority sisters who are systematically picked off by a man who keeps making threatening phone calls to their house. Oh, and it all happens during the holidays. Black Christmas is often considered the godfather of holiday horror, but it was also pretty early on the slasher scene, too. It opened the same year as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and beat Halloween by a full four years.

3. SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT (1984)

This movie isn’t about Santa Claus himself going berserk and slaughtering a bunch of people. But it is about a troubled teen who does just that in a Santa suit. Billy Chapman starts Silent Night, Deadly Night as a happy little kid, only to witness a man dressed as St. Nick murder his parents in cold blood. Years later, after he has grown up and gotten a job at a toy store, he conducts a killing spree in his own red-and-white suit. The PTA and plenty of critics condemned the film for demonizing a kiddie icon, but it turned into a bona fide franchise with four sequels and a 2012 remake.

4. RARE EXPORTS: A CHRISTMAS TALE (2010)

This Finnish flick dismantles Santa lore in truly bizarre fashion, and it’s not easy to explain in a quick plot summary. But Rare Exports involves a small community living at the base of Korvatunturi mountain, a major excavation project, a bunch of dead reindeer, and a creepy old naked dude who may or may not be Santa Claus. Thanks to its snowy backdrop, the movie scored some comparisons to The Thing, but the hero here isn’t some Kurt Russell clone with equally feathered hair. It’s a bunch of earnest kids and their skeptical dads, who all want to survive the holidays in one piece.

5. TO ALL A GOODNIGHT (1980)

To All a Goodnight follows a by-now familiar recipe: Add a bunch of young women to one psycho dressed as Santa Claus and you get a healthy dose of murder and this 1980 slasher flick. Only this one takes place at a finishing school. So it’s fancier.

6. KRAMPUS (2015)

Although many Americans are blissfully unaware of him, Krampus has terrorized German-speaking kids for centuries. According to folklore, he’s a yuletide demon who punishes naughty children. (He’s also part-goat.) That’s some solid horror movie material, so naturally Krampus earned his own feature film. In the movie, he’s summoned because a large suburban family loses its Christmas cheer. That family has an Austrian grandma who had encounters with Krampus as a kid, so he returns to punish her descendants. He also animates one truly awful Jack-in-the-Box.

7. THE GINGERDEAD MAN (2005)

“Eat me, you punk b*tch!” That’s one of the many corny catchphrases spouted by the Gingerdead Man, an evil cookie possessed by the spirit of a convicted killer (played by Gary Busey). The lesson here, obviously, is to never bake.

8. JACK FROST (1997)

No, this isn’t the Michael Keaton snowman movie. It’s actually a holiday horror movie that beat that family film by a year. In this version, Jack Frost is a serial killer on death row who escapes prison and then, through a freak accident, becomes a snowman. He embarks on a murder spree that’s often played for laughs—for instance, the cops threaten him with hairdryers. But the comedy is pretty questionable in the infamous, and quite controversial, Shannon Elizabeth shower scene.

9. ELVES (1989)

Based on the tagline—“They’re not working for Santa anymore”—you’d assume this is your standard evil elves movie. But Elves weaves Nazis, bathtub electrocutions, and a solitary, super grotesque elf into its utterly absurd plot. Watch at your own risk.

10. SINT (2010)

The Dutch have their own take on Santa, and his name is Sinterklaas. Sinterklaas travels to the Netherlands via steamship each year with his racist sidekick Zwarte Piet. But otherwise, he’s pretty similar to Santa. And if Santa can be evil, so can Sinterklaas. According to the backstory in Sint (or Saint), the townspeople burned their malevolent bishop alive on December 5, 1492. But Sinterklaas returns from the grave on that date whenever there’s a full moon to continue dropping bodies. In keeping with his olden origins, he rides around on a white horse wielding a golden staff … that he can use to murder you.

11. SANTA’S SLAY (2005)

Ever wonder where Santa came from? This horror-comedy claims he comes from the worst possible person: Satan. The devil’s kid lost a bet many years ago and had to pretend to be a jolly gift-giver. But now the terms of the bet are up and he’s out to act like a true demon. That includes killing Fran Drescher and James Caan, obviously.

12. ALL THROUGH THE HOUSE (2015)

Another Santa slasher is on the loose in All Through the House, but the big mystery here is who it is. This villain dons a mask during his/her streak through suburbia—and, as the genre dictates, offs a bunch of promiscuous young couples along the way. The riddle is all tied up in the disappearance of a little girl, who vanished several years earlier.

13. CHRISTMAS EVIL (1980)

Several years before Silent Night, Deadly Night garnered protests for its anti-Kringle stance, Christmas Evil put a radicalized Santa at the center of its story. The movie’s protagonist, Harry Stadling, first starts to get weird thoughts in his head as a kid when he sees “Santa” (really his dad in the costume) groping his mom. Then, he becomes unhealthily obsessed with the holiday season, deludes himself into thinking he’s Santa, and goes on a rampage. The movie is mostly notable for its superfan John Waters, who lent commentary to the DVD and gave Christmas Evil some serious cult cred.

14. SANTA CLAWS (1996)

If you thought this was the holiday version of Pet Sematary, guess again. The culprit here isn’t a demon cat in a Santa hat, but a creepy next-door neighbor. Santa Claws stars B-movie icon Debbie Rochon as Raven Quinn, an actress going through a divorce right in the middle of the holidays. She needs some help caring for her two girls, so she seeks out Wayne, her neighbor who has an obsessive crush on her. He eventually snaps and dresses up as Santa Claus in a ski mask. Mayhem ensues.

15. NEW YEAR’S EVIL (1980)

Because the holidays aren’t over until everyone’s sung “Auld Lang Syne,” we can’t count out New Year’s Eve horror. In New Year’s Evil, lady rocker Blaze is hosting a live NYE show. Everything is going well, until a man calls in promising to kill at midnight. The cops write it off as a prank call, but soon, Blaze’s friends start dropping like flies. Just to tie it all together, the mysterious murderer refers to himself as … “EVIL.”

nextArticle.image_alt|e
The American Museum of Natural History
arrow
Lists
10 Surprising Ways Senses Shape Perception
The American Museum of Natural History
The American Museum of Natural History

Every bit of information we know about the world we gathered with one of our five senses. But even with perfect pitch or 20/20 vision, our perceptions don’t always reflect an accurate picture of our surroundings. Our brain is constantly filling in gaps and taking shortcuts, which can result in some pretty wild illusions.

That’s the subject of “Our Senses: An Immersive Experience,” a new exhibition at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Mental Floss recently took a tour of the sensory funhouse to learn more about how the brain and the senses interact.

1. LIGHTING REVEALS HIDDEN IMAGES.

Woman and child looking at pictures on a wall

Under normal lighting, the walls of the first room of “Our Senses” look like abstract art. But when the lights change color, hidden illustrations are revealed. The three lights—blue, red, and green—used in the room activate the three cone cells in our eyes, and each color highlights a different set of animal illustrations, giving the viewers the impression of switching between three separate rooms while standing still.

2. CERTAIN SOUNDS TAKE PRIORITY ...

We can “hear” many different sounds at once, but we can only listen to a couple at a time. The AMNH exhibit demonstrates this with an audio collage of competing recordings. Our ears automatically pick out noises we’re conditioned to react to, like an ambulance siren or a baby’s cry. Other sounds, like individual voices and musical instruments, require more effort to detect.

3. ... AS DO CERTAIN IMAGES.

When looking at a painting, most people’s eyes are drawn to the same spots. The first things we look for in an image are human faces. So after staring at an artwork for five seconds, you may be able to say how many people are in it and what they look like, but would likely come up short when asked to list the inanimate object in the scene.

4. PAST IMAGES AFFECT PRESENT PERCEPTION.

Our senses often are more suggestible than we would like. Check out the video above. After seeing the first sequence of animal drawings, do you see a rat or a man’s face in the last image? The answer is likely a rat. Now watch the next round—after being shown pictures of faces, you might see a man’s face instead even though the final image hasn’t changed.

5. COLOR INFLUENCES TASTE ...

Every cooking show you’ve watched is right—presentation really is important. One look at something can dictate your expectations for how it should taste. Researchers have found that we perceive red food and drinks to taste sweeter and green food and drinks to taste less sweet regardless of chemical composition. Even the color of the cup we drink from can influence our perception of taste.

6. ... AND SO DOES SOUND

Sight isn’t the only sense that plays a part in how we taste. According to one study, listening to crunching noises while snacking on chips makes them taste fresher. Remember that trick before tossing out a bag of stale junk food.

7. BEING HYPER-FOCUSED HAS DRAWBACKS.

Have you ever been so focused on something that the world around you seemed to disappear? If you can’t recall the feeling, watch the video above. The instructions say to keep track of every time a ball is passed. If you’re totally absorbed, you may not notice anything peculiar, but watch it a second time without paying attention to anything in particular and you’ll see a person in a gorilla suit walk into the middle of the screen. The phenomenon that allows us to tune out big details like this is called selective attention. If you devote all your mental energy to one task, your brain puts up blinders that block out irrelevant information without you realizing it.

8. THINGS GET WEIRD WHEN SENSES CONTRADICT EACH OTHER.

Girl standing in optical illusion room.

The most mind-bending room in the "Our Senses" exhibit is practically empty. The illusion comes from the black grid pattern painted onto the white wall in such a way that straight planes appear to curve. The shapes tell our eyes we’re walking on uneven ground while our inner ear tells us the floor is stable. It’s like getting seasick in reverse: This conflicting sensory information can make us feel dizzy and even nauseous.

9. WE SEE SHADOWS THAT AREN’T THERE.

If our brains didn’t know how to adjust for lighting, we’d see every shadow as part of the object it falls on. But we can recognize that the half of a street that’s covered in shade isn’t actually darker in color than the half that sits in the sun. It’s a pretty useful adaptation—except when it’s hijacked for optical illusions. Look at the image above: The squares marked A and B are actually the same shade of gray. Because the pillar appears to cast a shadow over square B, our brain assumes it’s really lighter in color than what we’re shown.

10. WE SEE FACES EVERYWHERE.

The human brain is really good at recognizing human faces—so good it can make us see things that aren’t there. This is apparent in the Einstein hollow head illusion. When looking at the mold of Albert Einstein’s face straight on, the features appear to pop out rather than sink in. Our brain knows we’re looking at something similar to a human face, and it knows what human faces are shaped like, so it automatically corrects the image that it’s given.

All images courtesy of the American Museum of Natural History unless otherwise noted.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios