Stress in adolescence may prime you for future challenges

New York, Oct 6 (IANS) Unpredictable stress during adolescence may help us deal with future challenges more efficiently, suggests new research.

In experiments, the researchers found that rats exposed to frequent physical, social, and predatory stress during adolescence solved problems and foraged more efficiently under high-threat conditions in adulthood compared with rats that developed without stress.

The results may provide insights into how humans respond to adolescent stress, the researchers said.

They turned to rats to investigate the effects of maltreatment during adolescence because it is unethical to manipulate stress in humans and rats have a short lifespan, allowing them to study long-term effects more efficiently.

For the study, Lauren Chaby from Pennsylvania State University exposed adolescent rats to a range of unpredictable stressors, including smaller or tilted cages, social isolation or crowding, and predator scents or vocalisations.

The researchers then tested adult animals to see if there were lasting effects of stress in adolescence.

“We wanted to test them in conditions that were consistent with their rearing conditions to see if that impacted their ability to solve tasks,” Chaby said.

The team tested the ability of 24 adult rats to solve problems while foraging for food under both standard and high-threat conditions — bright light, a taxidermy hawk swooping overhead, and hawk vocalizations.

Adult rats then manipulated a variety of novel objects to obtain food rewards.

Under high-threat conditions, adult rats stressed during adolescence started foraging sooner, visited 20 percent more food patches, and obtained 43 percent more food than a control group of unstressed adult rats.

These statistically significant results suggest that growing up in a stressful environment can prepare rats for a stressful, high-predation environment in the future.

Chaby hopes that studies like this can help direct how we study adolescent stress in humans.

The results were published in the journal Animal Behavior.

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