The teenage brain

Adolescence is a developmental period beginning at the onset of puberty and ending when an individual takes on a position of responsibility within their society. Accordingly, on the one hand, adolescence will vary widely between cultures and across history, but on the other hand, certain factors appear to remain constant even across species. Specific behaviours such as increased novelty-seeking, or risk-taking have been referenced over the centuries (see Shakespeare quote below), in a range of countries and cultures and across different species. In terms of the brain, the adolescent period in humans is characterised by changes in the prefrontal cortex (PFC), which is key for executive abilities (like inhibitory control), and in subcortical structures (those beneath the cortex), key for emotional processing. These brain changes are thought to continue into the mid-twenties.

It is important to note that this research relates to the ‘average’ teenage brain.  There is however a huge amount of variability in both teenage brain development and behaviour.

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Click on the topics below to find out more about the science in the film.

Sleep      ***      Hormonal Changes      ***      Prefrontal Changes
Inhibitory Control      ***      Mental Time Travel      ***      Limbic Changes
Sensation Seeking       ***       Risk taking       ***       Social Development
Theories of Adolescence      ***     Evolution      ***      Mental Health
Neuroconstructivism      ***     Educational Neuroscience


William Shakespeare, The Winter’s Tale:
“I would there were no age between sixteen and three-and-twenty, or that youth would sleep out the rest; for there is nothing in the between but getting wenches with child, wronging the ancientry, stealing, fighting—Hark you now! Would any but these boiled brains of nineteen and two-and-twenty hunt this weather?”


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