There’s an idea out there of what a drug-addled teen is supposed to look like: impulsive, unconscientious, smart, perhaps — but not the most engaged. While personality traits like that could signal danger, not every adolescent who fits that description becomes a problem drug user. So how do you tell who’s who?
There’s no perfect answer, but researchers report February 21 in Nature Communications that they’ve found a way to improve our predictions — using brain scans that can tell, in a manner of speaking, who’s bored by the promise of easy money, even when the kids themselves might not realize it.
That conclusion grew out of a collaboration between Brian Knutson, a professor of psychology at Stanford, and Christian Büchel, a professor of medicine at Universitätsklinikum Hamburg Eppendorf. With support from the Stanford Neurosciences Institute’s NeuroChoice program, which Knutson co-directs, the pair started sorting through an intriguing dataset covering, among other things, 144 European adolescents who scored high on a test of what’s called novelty seeking — roughly, the sorts of personality traits that might indicate a kid is at risk for drug or alcohol abuse.