A new study has introduced an interesting question as to whether air pollution can have an impact on teen behaviour. The study, conducted by researchers from the University of Southern California (USC) Keck School of Medicine, looked at the effect of air pollution and foliage levels on behaviour.
According to the study, the problem stems from particulate matter; tiny pollution particles that are 30 times smaller than a strand of hair. Lead author Dr. Diana Younan explained how these particles can creep into the human anatomy, including the lungs and heart.
Studies have also shown that these pollutants can cause inflammation of the brain. These tiny particles can even have a severe impact on the development of the brain, causing damage to the structure and neural networks – which in turn can affect adolescent behaviour.
The study looked at delinquent behaviour in 9 to 18-year olds in urban neighbourhoods of Greater Los Angeles. While the study acknowledges other factors that lead to problems such as poor parent-child relationships, parental mental and social distress, it did show an interesting correlation.
Previous studies looked at the effect of early exposure to lead and how it disrupts brain development and increases aggressive behaviour, resulting in juvenile delinquent. The new study looked at the possibility of pollution particles contributing to the problem.
During the study, parents completed a behaviour checklist and looked for 13 rule breaking behaviours including vandalism, arson, lying and cheating, truancy and substance abuse. Up to four assessments were recorded for each of the children over a period of nine years, starting from the age of nine.
They also studied the air quality from 2000 to 2014 and used a mathematical model around the participant’s address to look at pollution levels around their homes.
75% of the participants breathed ambient air pollution that exceeded the recommended levels of 12 micrograms per cubic meter. Some had levels double the recommended amount. Another factor noted was the lack of greenery in these areas.
The study showed an increase in anti-social behaviour in these children as pollution levels rise, but acknowledged that there are also other factors leading to their actions. Further studies are needed to help isolate the part that pollution plays in the brain’s development, and the correlation with aggressive and anti-social behaviours in the young and teenage groups.