Have you seen the fire challenge? It’s a YouTube and social media challenge where people light parts of their body on fire for Internet fame and fortune. That’s a picture of it above, taken from one of the more infamous videos. It’s okay if you don’t believe me, no one in their right mind would set themselves on fire just to make a video, right?

Well, no one but teenagers, who make up most of the fire challenge participants. Their minds are different. Scientists have recently compiled a study of just how different that might help understand why teenagers, especially teenage boys, are drawn to extremely risky behavior.

Florida State University College of Medicine Neuroscientist Pradeep Bhide brought together 19 separate studies of the teenage brain from various scientific disciplines for a special volume of Developmental Neuroscience, “Teenage Brains: Think Different?”

Here’s a summary of some of the findings, according to a press release:

 •  Unlike children or adults, teenage boys show enhanced activity in the part of the brain that controls emotions when confronted with a threat. Magnetic resonance scanner readings in one study revealed that the level of activity in the limbic brain of adolescent males reacting to threat, even when they’ve been told not to respond to it, was strikingly different from that in adult men.

• Using brain activity measurements, another team of researchers found that teenage boys were mostly immune to the threat of punishment but hypersensitive to the possibility of large gains from gambling. The results question the effectiveness of punishment as a deterrent for risky or deviant behavior in adolescent boys.

• Another study demonstrated that a molecule known to be vital in developing fear of dangerous situations is less active in adolescent male brains. These findings point towards neurochemical differences between teenage and adult brains, which may underlie the complex behaviors exhibited by teenagers.

Although the fire challenge is an especially stupid example, it’s not the first dumb thing teenagers have done. You grandfather greased his hair back and played chicken in cars. Our ancestors probably engaged in mastodon tipping. And risky teenage behavior is a large more serious problem as shown by our overloaded juvenile justices systems, bustling Planned Parenthood clinics, and busy hospital wards. Taking a step to understanding it might be a step to calming them down.

“These studies attempt to isolate, examine and understand some of these potential causes of a teenager’s complex conundrum. The research sheds light on how we may be able to better interact with teenagers at home or outside the home, how to design educational strategies and how best to treat or modify a teenager’s maladaptive behavior,” Bhide said.

[Source: Florida State University]