Risky sexual behavior more likely in teens with weaker memory

Teen couple

In a recent study that included 360 adolescents aged 12 to 15, researchers found that kids with weaker working memories were more likely to engage in impulsive behaviors — including risky sexual acts.

The findings, which were reported by the Society for Research in Child Development, suggest potential new ways of intervening with kids who demonstrate impulsive behavior.

“For adolescents who have weak ability to override strong impulses, improvements in working memory may provide a pathway to greater control over risky sexual behavior,” Dan Romer, research director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, said in a press release.

What is working memory? Researchers say it refers to the brain system that allows us to access information, make plans, and weigh decisions. It’s also something that develops throughout adolescence. Prior to this study, researchers had already learned through previous research that poor working memory was linked to issues controlling impulsivity in teens. This new study is novel in that it looked specifically at cognitive abilities that rely on working memory.

It also suggests a link between poor working memory and risky sexual behavior.

“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,” study leader Atika Khurana, assistant professor of counseling psychology and human services at the University of Oregon, said in the press release. “Furthermore, changes in these impulsive tendencies are associated with early and unprotected sex in adolescents, even after taking into account parents’ socioeconomic status, involvement, and monitoring of sexual behavior.”

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