Emotional and cognitive changes during adolescence

Curr Opin Neurobiol. 2007 Apr;17(2):251-7. doi: 10.1016/j.conb.2007.03.009. Epub 2007 Mar 26.


Adolescence is a critical period for maturation of neurobiological processes that underlie higher cognitive functions and social and emotional behavior. Recent studies have applied new advances in magnetic resonance imaging to increase understanding of the neurobiological changes that occur during the transition from childhood to early adulthood. Structural imaging data indicate progressive and regressive changes in the relative volumes of specific brain regions, although total brain volume is not significantly altered. The prefrontal cortex matures later than other regions and its development is paralleled by increased abilities in abstract reasoning, attentional shifting, response inhibition and processing speed. Changes in emotional capacity, including improvements in affective modulation and discrimination of emotional cues, are also seen during adolescence. Functional imaging studies using cognitive and affective challenges have shown that frontal cortical networks undergo developmental changes in processing. In summary, brain regions that underlie attention, reward evaluation, affective discrimination, response inhibition and goal-directed behavior undergo structural and functional re-organization throughout late childhood and early adulthood. Evidence from recent imaging studies supports a model by which the frontal cortex adopts an increasingly regulatory role. These neurobiological changes are believed to contribute, in part, to the range in cognitive and affective behavior seen during adolescence.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Development / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Frontal Lobe / blood supply
  • Frontal Lobe / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Neural Pathways / blood supply
  • Neural Pathways / physiology