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Finally! Science Explains Your Self-Conscious Teen

Photograph by ThinkStock

"How does my hair look?" "Mom, stop singing! You're embarrassing me!" Teenagers are notoriously wrapped up in their image, and painfully worried about what others think of them, especially their friends. Now, a new study reveals at least part of the cause for all this adolescent angst: Blame teenagers' brains, it says.

The research, published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, finds that certain physiological and brain responses emerge and peak in adolescence. This activity, it says, is linked to a rise in self-consciousness.

Adolescence is "a unique period of the lifespan in which self-conscious emotion, physiological reactivity, and activity in specific brain areas converge and peak in response to being evaluated by others," explains Leah Somerville of Harvard University, a psychological scientist and the study’s lead author.

To conduct their study, the researchers gathered 69 participants ranging in age from 8 to 23 years old, telling them they’d be testing a new video camera. Subjects watched a screen to learn when the camera was “off,” “on” or “warming up,” having been told that a same-sex peer, roughly the same age, would be watching the feed and would see them when the camera was powered. (In act, there was no active camera.)

The findings? Of all the subjects, it was the adolescents who had the highest levels of embarrassment and certain other physiological changes when they thought they were being, or about to be, watched.

Of course, teenagers face all kinds of new social pressures as well, and those may also contribute to self-consciousness. So you may want to stop singing in front of their friends anyway, just to give ‘em a break.

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