A new study indicates that teenagers with a weak working memory are more likely to engage in promiscuous sexual relationships, regardless of the consequences.
Previous studies in the area showed that issue with regulating impulse control lead in the majority to teenagers engaging in sexual behavior that carries the risk of sexually transmitted diseases, as well as unplanned pregnancies.
The new study, conducted in collaboration by the University of Oregon, the Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania looked at working memory in relation to impulse control.
Working memory develops in all individuals during childhood throughout adolescence and it prompts the retrieval of former knowledge to assess the current situation and take decisions accordingly. Working memory is a system that is interconnected with cognitive abilities such as that of focusing on the task at hand without being distracted.
In the case of adolescents presenting weak working memory, the consortium of researchers found that assessing the consequences of impulse-pushed actions was a difficult process.
Atika Khurana, lead author of the study and assistant professor of counseling psychology and human services, explains the purpose of the research:
“We extended previous findings by showing for the first time that individuals who have pre-existing weakness in working memory are more likely to have difficulty controlling impulsive tendencies in early to mid-adolescence”.
The joint research included 360 adolescents in the age group between 12-15 years old and picked to represent a variety of ethnic, social and economic or racial backgrounds.
The 360 adolescents were split in groups that were involved in experiments meant to asses the level of working memory as well as the ability to focus on a certain task at hand. Impulsivity was checked through one experiment that looked at the will to delay instant gratification while weighing the implications of the task.
Afterwards, all the adolescents were self-describing and assessing their experiences. Computerized interviews that were conducted privately included questions on sexual activity, the first time they occurred, details and the engagement in unprotected, risky sexual relationships.
The sets of data indicated to the researchers that when put together, the adolescents who scored low in the working memory tests had also self-reported high levels of impulse-driven activities, mostly related to engaging in early sex and predominantly unprotected.
Impulse control underpinned their behavior as the majority of the adolescents who had weak working memory reported a short-term desire for sexual relations despite the long-term effects it could have on them.
Surprisingly, lower levels of working memory were not linked to high rates of sensation seeking, just to low impulse control.
To this extent, the research provides valuable insight on teen risky behavior and ways that it could be prevented attacking one root cause, weak working memory.
Working memory can be enhanced, particularly since it develops during childhood and early adolescence.
Image Source: hypnothai.org