Science has a strategy for training adolescents

South Korean K-Pop fans of a boy band called Exo. Jean Chung/Getty Images

The latest research has confirmed that adolescents don’t react well to punishment.

They just don’t get it.

If you want to these teens to do anything, a reward-based approach works.

A UK study, published in the journal PLOS Computational Biology, compared how adolescents and adults learn to make choices.

In an experiment with 18 volunteers aged 12 to 17 and 20 volunteers aged 18 to 32, adolescents and adults were equally good at learning to choose symbols associated with reward.

However, adolescents weren’t as good at avoiding symbols associated with punishment.

“From this experimental lab study we can draw conclusions about learning during adolescence,” says lead author Dr Stefano Palminteri, who conducted the study at the University College London’s Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience.

“We find that adolescents and adults learn in different ways, something that might be relevant to education.

“Unlike adults, adolescents are not so good at learning to modify their choices to avoid punishment.”

The study also found that adolescents did not learn from being shown what would have happened if they made alternative choices.

The researchers say parents and teachers should try to frame requests in more positive terms.

For example, “I will pay you to do the dishes” might work better than saying “I will cut your pocket money if you don’t do the dishes”.

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