Individual differences in working memory pre-determine risky sexual activity

Working memory refers to the system in the brain responsible for allowing individuals to recall and use stored information in the human brain to strategize and come up with decisions. Typically, this system is developed through childhood and adolescence.

Humans have superior abilities than other living species which make us unique. One of these abilities is the ability to control impulse and/or urges. Individuals belonging to the period of adolescence with more vulnerable working memory compared to those with more active ones find it more difficult to control these so-called impulsive urges and even reflect the consequences resulting from their actions.

People, especially adolescents, with difficulty in controlling impulse are more susceptible to risky sexual behavior.

A study, published in Child Development, was conducted to monitor 360 adolescents (ages 12 to 15) in 2 years, which aimed to investigate and analyze the effects of working memory on the reported changes in the youth’s self-control ability and risky sexual behaviour.

Atika Khurana, lead author and assistant professor of Counselling Psychology and Human Services at the University of Oregon, said in the news: “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.”

According to the findings, youth presenting with weaker working memory were shown to have larger increased in impulsive inclinations during the follow-up period. This furthered the possibility of this group of teenagers to engage in early and unprotected sexual activity.

The inclination to engage in sex always have the edge over the risks of longer-term consequences for teenagers in this state. Sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancy are some of those risky ramifications.
“Our findings identify alternative ways to intervene preventively,” said research director Dan Romer, Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania.

“For adolescents who have weak ability to override strong impulses, improvements in working memory may provide a pathway to greater control over risky sexual behaviour,” he further added.




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