Mom in car changes teen driver's brain
Teenage drivers make safer decisions when their mom is next to them in the passenger seat. But the effect may actually go beyond that, says a study from the University of Illinois. Having a mother in the car can actually change the brain activity of teen drivers.
Twenty-five teens were asked to complete a driving simulation test as quickly as possible. At each of the 26 intersections in the simulation, participants had the option of stopping for a yellow light, which would cause a three-second delay, or speed through the light, which would be the faster option if they didn’t crash. The teens went through the simulation once on their own and once with their mothers in the passenger seat.
Teens ran through yellow lights 55 percent of the time when driving alone, but with mom, the rate dropped to 45 percent. At the same time. the researchers found that when the teens were alone, running through a yellow light caused a rise in blood flow to their brains' reward centers. But when their moms were in the car, just the reverse happened--blood flow to that part of the brain increased when they made the safer choice and stopped at the yellow light.
This is thought to happen because in previous studies, when teens were driving with peers, their driving habits tended to be more reckless, suggesting that they feel rewarded when they act in a way according to what they think the passenger wants. This suggests that distraction alone doesn't explain why teen drivers are more reckless when they have friends in the car.
In the Illinois study, a mother's presence was also linked to increased activity in the part of the brain associated with impulse control. That wasn't the case when the teenagers drove by themselves.