June 20, 2002

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Predicting Risk-Taking Behavior in Adolescents: Ground-Breaking Research Conducted by Brain Research Institute and Maharishi School Student

Ms. Grace Boyle and Dr. Alarik Arenander  

Working in collaboration with the Institute’s Brain Research Institute, a 10th-grade student from Maharishi School in Fairfield, Iowa, has won first prize at the Southeast Iowa Science Fair for her innovative brain research.

Grace Boyle worked with BRI director Dr. Alarik Arenander to investigate the development of the prefrontal cortex (PFCX; colored region in figure below) in adolescents. Researchers believe that the PFCX orchestrates the development of important cognitive and behavioral activities that reflect social and moral reasoning, decision-making ability, self-image, and emotional stability.

  The brain, with the prefrontal cortex highlighted in yellow.

Dr. Arenander and Ms. Boyle investigated whether Maharishi School adolescents, who according to earlier research display a strong internal Locus of Control, would also exhibit a more stable emotional personality and a more mature style of decision-making and reasoning. Locus of Control, a standard neuropsychological measure, indicates that a person’s behavior is based more on internal value systems and less on external cues and peer pressure.

In addition, the study investigated whether high scores on this and other cognitive measures would correlate with low levels of behavioral risk as assessed by standard survey scales. The research survey distributed to Maharishi School students by Dr. Arenander and Ms. Grace predicts risk-taking behaviors as well as cognitive processes that may underlie risky behavior. The computer test used in the study is a “strategy” game considered to index the functioning of the prefrontal cortex. The game reveals the player’s decision-making abilities as well as PFCX dysfunction that can lead to anxiety and disruption of social behavior.

Findings from the study will be used to identify risk-potential profiles and their corresponding brain dynamics during development. Data for each test were analyzed and compared to a normative database of children from across the U.S. Factor analytic methods will be employed to see whether one or more underlying factors might be predictive of high-risk behaviors.

Ms. Grace’s research won first place at the Southeast Iowa State Fair, as well as sixth place at the State Science Fair held at Iowa State University. In honor of her work, she was asked to display her research at the Iowa Academy of Science.

“Doing advanced research and testing on prefrontal cortex development in adolescents awakened my insights and really challenged me mentally,” commented Ms. Boyle, daughter of Jay and Lenora Boyle of Fairfield, Iowa. “I am excited to have attained so much knowledge of the prefrontal cortex and its growth in teenagers. The judges told me that the research was conducted on an issue important in education and that they were very impressed with the project.”

Ms. Boyle’s school, Maharishi School of the Age of Enlightenment, is an award-winning private school in Fairfield, Iowa, that has just announced openings for boarding high school students. The school’s curriculum is structured around Consciousness-Based Education, which aims at developing the full mental potential of every student. The CBE approach includes daily practice of the Transcendental Meditation® technique—a practice that enhances the functioning of the brain’s prefrontal cortex, according to recent studies.

“This research is just the start of a whole new wave in educational research on enlightened youth,” said Dr. Arenander. “I congratulate Grace Boyle for her focus and hard work in carrying out and professionally presenting this research.

“We hope this pilot study will help us to develop a set of predictor variables for high-risk behavior in students in the country, as well as a deeper understanding of the impact of environmental and lifestyle variables on learning skills in the classroom.”


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