FEATURE3 January 2019

The socially driven teenage brain

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Behavioural economics Features Impact Youth

Certain cognitive biases may have a bigger impact depending on our age, recent behavioural research has found. Crawford Hollingworth explores the impact for behavioural change interventions and nudge design aimed at teenagers.

Teenage brain

We’re familiar with the idea of nudging – making small changes to choices and messages to steer people to alter their behaviour for the better. This is based on insights from behavioural science, which show how we’re all affected to some degree by subconscious cognitive biases and by different contexts.

What’s fascinating is that scientists are now beginning to understand how our susceptibility to certain biases changes throughout our life – from childhood to old age. As recently as 20 years ago, scientists assumed that most of our brain’s development was completed by mid to late childhood. In fact, through improvements in brain-imaging technologies, we now know that huge amounts of development – remodelling and strengthening some connections while pruning others – continue throughout childhood and adolescence. Our brains have not fully matured until we are in our mid-20s. 

Many experts believe this is a period of adaptation, rather than maturation, though. It’s a time for ...