The Adolescent Brain

Bk_598_blakemore630Sarah- Jayne Blakemore over at Edge:

The reason I became interested in the adolescent brain is twofold. Firstly, we know that most adult mental disorder has its onset at some point during the teenage years, so if you look at disorders like anxiety disorders, depression, addictions, eating disorders, almost all of them will have their onset some time during the teenage years.

Schizophrenia, as you might know, is a very horrific psychiatric condition that's characterized by delusions, like being paranoid and thinking that people are out to get you, and hallucinations like imagining that people are talking to you inside your head, hearing voices. That has its onset at the end of adolescence, normally in the early 20s, on average. So that's one reason why I think it's really important to study the adolescent brain. The hypothesis is that something is going wrong in normal brain development to trigger these psychiatric and psychological disorders.

The second reason why adolescence is an interesting period of life to study is because unlike most other periods of life, the leading causes of death in adolescence are accidents. That's the number one leading cause of death during the period of adolescence, the second is suicide. The accidents are caused, generally, by risk taking. So we know that teenagers take more risks than either children or adults. The question is, why? Why is adolescence associated with this phenomenon like increased risk taking and especially when adolescents are with their peers, so peers become really influential in adolescence. Adolescents are driven towards impressing their peers, trying to seek approval of their peers, and becoming more and more independent from their parents. Social cognition, the social brain seems to change during the period of adolescence, and that's something that particularly interests me.

And finally, self-awareness; awareness of one's self, and consciousness of one's self. We all know, if you remember what it's like being a teenager, that feeling of heightened self-consciousness that seems to happen in early adolescence where you become easily embarrassed by things like your parents, or social situations where you're not seen as cool, and that kind of thing.