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Blame Your Brain For Temper Tantrums March 9, 2008

Posted by Mrs Weird Scientist in Human Body, Psychology and Behavior, Tough Stuff.
Tags: , ,
Temper Tantrum

Temper tantrums aren’t just a reaction that young kids exhibit when they get upset or angry. Teens can also go berserk over all sorts of issues. Yet, some teens seem to keep their cool while others fly off the handle at just the slightest aggravation. Now, a study suggests that the connection may lie in a teenager’s brain.

Checking Out Families

Nicholas Allen from the University of Melbourne, Australia investigated 137 children between the ages of 11 and 14. As part of the experiment, he also observed their parents. Allen and his team of researchers used questions – such as curfews – that were expected to trigger arguments. They videotaped these disagreements and found that there were loads of differences between the families. Some families kept calm while others were more aggressive and could barely even speak to one another.

What An Enormous Amygdala You Have

When researchers took scans of the children’s brains, they narrowed in on three specific areas. The first was the amygdala, which is what gets people fired up to react impulsively to situations. The other parts they checked out were pre-frontal regions known as the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) – areas of the brain that play a role in the more thoughtful types of responses. The results were really interesting!


Researchers found that the boys and girls who reacted more aggressively to the family discussions had bigger amygdalas. As for the temperamental boys, they had smaller ACCs on the left side of the brain, which researchers think explains why they remained aggressive for a longer period of time. On top of that, the boys who had smaller OFCs on the left side were more likely to respond to mopey parents by acting just as moody!

Making Sense Of The Results

Basically, what the results show is that those grumpy, tantrum-prone teens aren’t getting enough control from the pre-frontal parts over the amygdala. So, the impulsive behaviors end up ruling over the thoughtful and more reflective areas of the brain. What’s the end result? You got it – temper tantrums! The results also suggest that the areas of the brain controlling emotions and aggression are different in boys and girls.

My title for this blog entry is actually a bit misleading because it implies that the structural differences in the brain are fully responsible for aggression, when this just isn’t the case. The research gives us helpful clues to one contributing factor in the puzzle of temper tantrums. Learning more about why some teens are calm when others can freak out so easily and intensely can perhaps allow researchers to find better strategies for helping teens handle their aggression. As for my teenage years, I didn’t blame my brain for temper tantrums – I usually just blamed my parents, as most of us teens do!

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1. David Bradley - March 10, 2008

To be honest, I still have temper tantrums now, and I’m in my 40s…time for a brain fix, I reckon.


2. Miss Weird Scientist - March 10, 2008

Yes, but do you make faces like the boy in the picture above? ;)

3. whitney - November 13, 2012

You can’t blame the teenagers for being angry so easily. The size of their “amygdala” is based off the way their DNA is wired which, as everyone knows, is from the parents. So, therefore, in order for the teens to blow up more their parents are the main reason. Teens act the way our parents wire us. My dad has the shortest fuse of any person I have ever met. If I look at him for too long he yells at me. So naturally I get irritated far too easily as well

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