Workshop 2: Sarah Jayne Blakemore

Sarah Jayne is talking about her work in the teenage brain.

She begins by explaining that adolescence can go on for a long time and in this country that is considered to be very normal. Other cultures have different ideas about when adolescence should come to an end, but the same behaviours are exhibited – increase in risk taking, peer influence and being self conscious.

Teenagers take more risks than adults; they are at the peak of their health here, too. Sarah Jayne shares the results of a study on peer influence on risk raking. It shows that adolescents and adults take about the same number of risks when they’re alone, but that the graph massively spikes when they’re with friends, with adolescents having nearly double the number of accidents that adults do.

Sarah Jayne is interested to understand why. They use a game called Cyberball where participants choose to include or exclude other players from a cartoon game and changes in mood are tracked. For adults, being excluded led to a significant decrease in mood. For adolescents, this decrease was much greater: they don’t like being socially excluded. She goes on to explain her work in adolescent decision making: weighing up the facts happens differently when under social influence. The social factor weighs much more heavily to adolescents than it does to adults. Sarah Jayne uses the example of a 13 year old girl whose friends are all smoking: having a cigarette is the rational choice, to avoid ostracisation. This leads to a discussion about why, and how this could be avoided.

Sarah Jayne moves on to walk about when the human brain stops developing. I remember reading that humans don’t develop their empathy skills until the age of 23 or 24 – looking forward to seeing whether she can confirm this. It has helped me to think about teaching alternative interpretations in History so it would be a shame to discover that it wasn’t true.

Research shows that brain development doesn’t happen uniformly. Sarah Jayne talks about grey matter changes through brain development; it rises through adolescents and the declines. This is possibly due to an excess of synapses during adolescence that are pruned away as the brain matures to adulthood. She uses an example of Japanese people being unable to distinguish between r and l sounds: they are not exposed to these sounds as babies and so the synapses to recognise these sounds it pruned away by the time they reach a year or so, and then it is wildly difficult to get them back. I am really loving this lecture. So interesting!

Pre frontal cortex development happens towards the end of the process. This controls planning, inhibiting inappropriate actions, multi-tasking, social interaction, self awareness, self control, decision making, problem solving, amongst other things. Boys’ brains develop slightly slower than girls’ brains on average, and it is linked closely to puberty, too.

We watch a clip of helping behaviours among toddlers, who can infer intention without use of language in order to provide assistance to adults. Sarah Jayne then explains that teenagers use more of their brain, or work harder, when doing social cognition tasks than adults do…think this means that empathy takes them more effort? Hope I’m not working too hard to make it agree with what I already thought…


Sarah Jayne suggests that we need to encourage teenagers to use that risk taking that comes naturally to them to attempt tasks in the classroom where they might not want to get it wrong or might be unsure – ties in very nicely with Beth’s session on arguing. She suggests anything that involves a lot of reasoning or abstract thinking arguably isn’t best taught first thing in the morning to teenagers, who struggle first thing and are more alert as the day goes on.

Ten minutes over time but I could listen to this all day. Great session.

This entry was posted in tlab14. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s