IU School of Medicine, Riley researches study risky decision-making in children


INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) — Have you ever wondered why some kids are more impulsive than others? Some kids make riskier choices, while others seem to follow the rules. Now, the Indiana University School of Medicine and Riley Hospital for Children are hoping parents can help answer that decades-old question.

There's a study underway using brain imaging, family history and more to help prevent kids from making bad choices in the future.

Researchers are still looking for more children to be part of the study, which has a few more years to go. However, Yushawn Hatchett and his mother Yolaikatia are already participants in the study.

Yushawn is 12 years old and his mom knows growing up today is a challenge. "It's definitely different and it's definitely scary," said Hatchett.

Dr. Leslie Hulvershorn, an associate professor of Psychiatry with IU School of Medicine, is helping lead the study and wants to unlock the reasons why some kids do the things they do.

"It'll tell us what's going on in the brain, so we're specifically looking at brain mechanisms," Hyulvershorn said. "The wave of the future is to develop treatments based on brain mechanisms, because right now that isn't really done."

The study starts with a brain scan to see what goes into a child's decision-making. Hulvershorn said there's been a ton of preventive interventions developed for substance use disorders, but they don't work very well, which is why this study is unique.

"None of them are designed with the idea that we're gonna understand what's going on in the brain, with a specific trait, at all…this is really targeting a specific narrow group of the population that we think is really high risk," Hulvershorn said.

She said the five-year study involves an initial MRI, which takes about an hour. The participant is given different decision-making scenarios so the doctors see which part of the brain is activated. The study focuses on a range of risky behaviors, like substance abuse and sexual activity.

"The world can be so rough and tough and change you and mold you into something different," Hatchett said. That's one reason why the study is focusing on 11- and 12-year-old and girls. They're tracked into their teenage years, which is when doctors say those risky behaviors often develop. Along with the MRI, there are questionnaires.

Hulvershorn said sometimes the risk factors show in early childhood. That's why she wants to know if there's something in the brain that doesn't let kids perceive the risks the same way. Yushawn and his mother are happy to help researchers with IU Health and Riley Hospital out. She hopes they get as much out of her child as they can, so they can help kids in the future.

Hulvershorn hopes to have the research published in a medical journal in a few years. IU health and Riley Hospital are still looking for about 100 more kids to take part in the study. After the initial visit, there are follow-up meetings to track behavior every six months. For those, they'll come to you. You can also be compensated up to $430. If you or your child would like to take part in this study, you can call 317-278-7795 or email iubrain@iupui.edu.