The late study carried out by researchers at the University of Oregon, the University of Pennsylvania, and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia discovers how adolescent poor working memory relates to unprotected sex, by determining the correlation between cognitive abilities and impulsive control.
Published in the journal ”Child Development”, the study examines the connection between a weak working memory and the inclination towards incipient sexual activity as well as unprotected sex of adolescents.
The mentioned study reveals that teenagers with a weaker working memory are more likely to encounter difficulties in controlling impulsive urges and engage much easier in early or unprotected sex, as compared to those adolescents with a stronger working memory.
Starting from childhood period and matured during adolescence time, working memory represents that system in the brain that enables individuals, by using information, to realize planning and decision making processes.
In the study participated a total of 360 adolescents, with ages ranging from 12 to 15 years, of diverse ethnicity and belonging to different socioeconomic backgrounds.
They were all asked to engage in various experiments that aimed to measure their working memory level and to verify the extent to which they could concentrate their attention on information relevant to a task.
Another part of the experiment offered the researchers the possibility to analyze adolescents’s levels of impulsiveness, by targeting their ability to delay gratification. At this point, participants experienced an individual inclination to follow impulse and sensations without too much consideration.
Developed throughout a period of two years, the study revealed that adolescents with a scarcer working memory also experienced greater impulsiveness, being more prone to pursue early and unprotected sexual activity.
Moreover, the study accounts that their momentarily urge overwhelmed future consequences. They showed little importance to factors such as sexually transmitted diseases or unplanned or unwanted pregnancies.
Dan Romer, research director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, commented that their findings identify alternative ways to intervene preventively.
Especially for those adolescents who experience a weaker ability to override strong impulses, improvements in working memory may provide a pathway to greater control over risky sexual behavior.
Moreover, he claims that certain parenting practices, characterized by nurturing and responsive involvement, have been shown to support the development of working memory. He is confident that interventions could aim to strengthen these types of parenting practices as well.
In addition, lead author Atika Khurana, assistant professor of Counselling Psychology and Human Services at the University of Oregon, explains that the research extended previous findings on the topic.
Thus, they now managed to show, for the first time, that individuals who have pre-existing weakness in working memory are, also, more likely to have difficulty controlling impulsive tendencies in early to mid-adolescence.
In conclusion, even though the study indicated that adolescents with weaker working memory experience more difficulty controlling their self -impulsive urges and pondering the consequences of their actions, much improvement can be made through early intervention and prevention.