Adolescence is a time of dramatic physical, cognitive, emotional, and social changes as well as a time for the development of many social-emotional problems. These characteristics raise compelling questions about accompanying neural changes that are unique to this period of development. Here, we propose that studying adolescent-specific changes in face processing and its underlying neural circuitry provides an ideal model for addressing these questions. We also use this model to formulate new hypotheses. Specifically, pubertal hormones are likely to increase motivation to master new peer-oriented developmental tasks, which will in turn, instigate the emergence of new social/affective components of face processing. We also predict that pubertal hormones have a fundamental impact on the re-organization of neural circuitry supporting face processing and propose, in particular, that, the functional connectivity, or temporal synchrony, between regions of the face-processing network will change with the emergence of these new components of face processing in adolescence. Finally, we show how this approach will help reveal why adolescence may be a period of vulnerability in brain development and suggest how it could lead to prevention and intervention strategies that facilitate more adaptive functional interactions between regions within the broader social information processing network.
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