The adolescent brain has been forged by evolution to have different features than those of a child or an adult, but it is not broken or defective. Phenomenal ability to adapt to environmental demands (i.e. plasticity), dynamic changes in the brain’s reward circuitry, and dramatic alterations in how the different components of the brain interact with each other make adolescence a time of great opportunity but also a time of vulnerability. Prominent amongst the vulnerabilities are the factors that make adolescence the most common time for emergence of many psychiatric conditions including anxiety and mood disorders, eating disorders, psychosis, and substance abuse. Neurobiological maturation in the highly adaptive teen brain drives behavioral changes of increased risk taking, heightened sensation seeking, and a move away from parent to peer affiliation. These behavioral changes are not inherently bad but may contribute to an increased likelihood for difficulties during adolescence. Neuroimaging investigations are beginning to map trajectories of brain development in health and illness, discern the influences, for good or ill, on these trajectories, and explore how the biological changes interact with the behavioral changes and social context to affect the risk for addiction. In this presentation Dr. Giedd will summarize results from his 23 year ongoing longitudinal brain imaging/genetics/behavioral study encompassing over 8000 scans from 3000 people aged 3 to 30 years (¼ healthy singletons, ¼ healthy twins, ½ clinical populations such as Autism, ADHD, Childhood onset Schizophrenia) with the goal of generating discussion regarding future directions of research.
1) Understanding challenges to learning
2) Decision-making related to teen brain development