Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh tested adult and adolescent rats and found the adolescents tended to return to a hole for a reward far more often than adults, even though there was no longer any reward, and even after the adult rats had stopped returning altogether.
This doggedness was even more prominent in adolescent rats that had had a restricted diet before the experiment. This group nosed the hole twice as often as adults under the same circumstances. Adolescents receiving the cue but with free access to food made for the reward-less hole only a third as often.
Unlike the adults, teen rats faced with certain feelings and settings, behaved irrationally and compulsively.
The findings, reported in Behavioral Neuroscience, suggest the risky behavior and even psychological disorders associated with adolescence could be linked to increased teen neural sensitivity to feelings and environment surroundings.
"A scenario could range from the relatively mundane, such as hungry teenagers being more likely than adults to buy fast-food immediately after seeing an advertisement, to despair and relationship problems eliciting thoughts of suicide," study leader Bita Moghaddam said in a statement.