Brains systems undergo unique and specific dynamic changes at the cellular, circuit, and systems level that underlie the transition to adult-level cognitive control. We integrate literature from these different levels of analyses to propose a novel model of the brain basis of the development of cognitive control. The ability to consistently exert cognitive control improves into adulthood as the flexible integration of component processes, including inhibitory control, performance monitoring, and working memory, increases. Unique maturational changes in brain structure, supported by interactions between dopaminergic and GABAergic systems, contribute to enhanced network synchronization and an improved signal-to-noise ratio. In turn, these factors facilitate the specialization and strengthening of connectivity in networks supporting the transition to adult levels of cognitive control. This model provides a novel understanding of the adolescent period as an adaptive period of heightened experience-seeking necessary for the specialization of brain systems supporting cognitive control.
Keywords: GABA; cognitive control; development; dopamine; inhibition; networks; performance monitoring; working memory.