New excuse for bad behavior: Researchers suggest that teens behaving badly could be victims of brain damage due to air pollution

We all know that air pollution is bad for our physical health, but did you know that it can cause mental imbalances as well? Air pollution is now one of the factors that cause delinquencies and bad behavior among teenagers. A study from the University of Southern California found that behavioral traits may be affected by the detrimental effects of pollution.

The toxic particles found in air pollution are known to damage neurons that are responsible for our emotions and our decision-making capabilities. Scientists involved with the study found that these toxic particles cause inflammation in the brain’s cells, and ultimately leads to anti-social behavior and other behavioral problems. The particulate matter, called PM2.5 is 30 times smaller than a strand of hair and is extremely harmful to health. Not only does PM2.5 affect brain cells, but it can also cause damage to the heart and the lungs. PM2.5 is particularly damaging to the brain because it targets the structure of the brain and the neural networks associated with it.

The study involved 682 youth from urban neighborhoods in Greater Los Angeles. They followed the participants starting from nine years of age for nine years (until they were 18 years old). Parents filled out a child-behavior checklist every few years and specified if their child had engaged in rule-breaking behaviors such as lying, cheating, truancy, stealing, vandalism, arson, or substance abuse. Each participant were assessed up to four times during the study.

In order to measure the particulates in the air, researchers used 25 air quality monitors to measure the daily levels of pollution in Southern California from 2000 to 2014. Each participant’s address was noted, and levels of PM2.5 were measured outside their homes. Results showed that around 75 percent of the total number of participants breathed ambient air pollution from the government’s recommended levels of only 12 micrograms per cubic meter. Some areas were found to have a double of the recommended amounts of these particles.

Findings show that elevated pollution levels increases a community’s criminal activities. Researchers noted that bad behaviors were associated with increased levels of outdoor air pollution, and were magnified if the children did not have a proper relationship with their parents, or were living with depressed family members, or grew up in homes with high levels of stress.

Unfortunately, poor people would choose an urban home that is proximal to air pollution, such as housing developments near freeways. Living near polluted areas causes many health problems such as asthma and other respiratory diseases, as well as alter the youth’s brain structures and psychology.

The findings were published in the December issue of the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology.

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