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Smoking tobacco impacts the prefrontal cortex of teens during development, which may lead to poor decision-making

Edythe London, study leader and a professor of psychiatry at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA, along with a team of researchers from UCLA and the University of Texas at Austin, have found that teenage smokers have reduced brain activity compared to non-smokers. 

The UCLA team determined these results by measuring the level of nicotine dependence in 25 smokers and 25 non-smokers that ranged from ages 15 to 21 through the use of the Heaviness of Smoking Index (HSI). The HSI looks at how many cigarettes the teen smokes per day and how soon they begin smoking each day to determine their dependence

Researchers then performed a test called the Stop-Signal Task (SST) on the participants. While being subjected to functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), the test subjects were asked to press a button as quickly as they could when a lighted arrow appeared. The only time they were not to press the button was when an auditory cue was played. This tested each participant’s ability to inhibit an action. 

London described the results as "interesting." Higher HSI measurements, or the more a teen smoked, resulted in reduced activity in a part of the brain known as the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for decision-making. But despite this reduced activity, both smokers and non-smokers performed about the same in the Stop-Signal Task. 

"The finding that there was little difference on the Stop-Signal Task between smokers and non-smokers was a surprise," said London. "That suggested to us that the motor response of smokers may be maintained through some kind of compensation from other brain areas." 

According to the study, the fact that both smokers and non-smokers performed the same in the Stop-Signal Task "suggests that early interventions during the teen years" may prevent teens from smoking occasionally to smoking heavily.  

London also noted that protracted development of the prefrontal cortex may cause poor decision-making in teenagers, due to immature cognitive control during the time of adolescence.  

"Such an effect can influence the ability of youth to make rational decisions regarding their well-being, and that includes the decision to stop smoking," said London. "As the prefrontal cortex continues to develop during the critical period of adolescence, smoking may influence the trajectory of brain development, affecting the function of the prefrontal cortex. In turn, if the prefrontal cortex is negatively impacted, a teen may be more likely to start smoking and to keep smoking - instead of making the decision that would favor in a healthier life."

This study was published in Neuropsychopharmacology.

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RE: This just in
By Wiggy Mcshades on 3/8/2011 2:38:38 PM , Rating: -1
Attending class is the last thing that will guarantee higher grades. The act of showing up to class does not mean the student will learn anything when they get there. Learning is something an individual chooses to do. If they do not want to learn, they wont. No one can funnel knowledge into your brain, it has to be a pursuit of said knowledge or nothing. Don't make generalizations about anything to do with education, you're either robbing yourself or someone else of far more than what ever you got out of making such a generalization.

RE: This just in
By smackababy on 3/8/2011 2:42:48 PM , Rating: 4
Except, I'd wager quite a lot that almost any sample size larger than 2 will show students who regularly attend class score higher on tests. Those who don't want to be there usually skip. Sure, there are some who don't go but learn anyway, but they are the minority.

RE: This just in
By cruisin3style on 3/8/2011 6:26:11 PM , Rating: 2
That's me, heh. I used to skip as many classes as possible because they were usually boring and moved too slow, then I would learn the test material through marathon study sessions before the exam of 1-3 days depending on the level of material.

RE: This just in
By Hieyeck on 3/9/2011 9:05:20 AM , Rating: 2
There are exceptions to every rule. No exceptions.

RE: This just in
By kingius on 3/9/2011 10:37:53 AM , Rating: 2
What have they discovered?

Idiots like smoking.

I could have told them that for nothing.

RE: This just in
By NellyFromMA on 3/9/11, Rating: 0
RE: This just in
By tastyratz on 3/8/2011 7:49:25 PM , Rating: 2

It was a generalization of the obvious with comic relief. Those who don't care to attend class generally learn less than those that show up. This does not mean all fit the category.

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