Developmental changes in adolescents’ neural response to challenge

Dev Cogn Neurosci. 2011 Oct;1(4):560-9. doi: 10.1016/j.dcn.2011.06.006.


Adolescents often fail to adaptively regulate their emotions and behaviors. This is most clearly demonstrated by the marked increase during this period in fatalities that are attributable to preventable causes. Using functional magnetic resonance methodology, this study explored whether adolescents and adults differed in their engagement of prefrontal circuitry in response to a cognitive and emotional challenge. Twenty-four adolescents and twenty-three adults were scanned while they solved difficult math problems with induced failure and negative social evaluation. Data is reported from 23 adolescents and 23 adults. Adult and adolescent participants showed similar increases in heart rate when responding to the experimental challenge. Despite the similarity of the autonomic response, adolescents recruited a more restricted network of prefrontal regions as compared to adults. Both adolescents and adults recruited the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, however adults additionally recruited the anterior insula. Functional connectivity between the anterior insula and other prefrontal regions was stronger in adults as compared to adolescents. Further, for adults, the magnitude of activity in the insula predicted lower autonomic activity in response to the challenge. Differences between adolescents and adults engagement of prefrontal networks may relate to adolescents’ poor behavioral and emotional regulation.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Development / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping / methods
  • Child
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Male
  • Nerve Net / growth & development*
  • Photic Stimulation / methods
  • Prefrontal Cortex / growth & development*
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Reaction Time / physiology*
  • Young Adult