Understanding adolescence as a period of social-affective engagement and goal flexibility

Nat Rev Neurosci. 2012 Sep;13(9):636-50. doi: 10.1038/nrn3313.


Research has demonstrated that extensive structural and functional brain development continues throughout adolescence. A popular notion emerging from this work states that a relative immaturity in frontal cortical neural systems could explain adolescents' high rates of risk-taking, substance use and other dangerous behaviours. However, developmental neuroimaging studies do not support a simple model of frontal cortical immaturity. Rather, growing evidence points to the importance of changes in social and affective processing, which begin around the onset of puberty, as crucial to understanding these adolescent vulnerabilities. These changes in social-affective processing also may confer some adaptive advantages, such as greater flexibility in adjusting one's intrinsic motivations and goal priorities amidst changing social contexts in adolescence.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior*
  • Adolescent Development / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Brain / anatomy & histology
  • Brain / growth & development
  • Cognition / physiology
  • Decision Making
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological
  • Motivation*
  • Neuroimaging
  • Social Behavior*