The effects of age, sex, and hormones on emotional conflict-related brain response during adolescence

Brain Cogn. 2015 Oct;99:135-50. doi: 10.1016/j.bandc.2015.06.002. Epub 2015 Jul 11.


While cognitive and emotional systems both undergo development during adolescence, few studies have explored top-down inhibitory control brain activity in the context of affective processing, critical to informing adolescent psychopathology. In this study, we used functional magnetic resonance imaging to examine brain response during an Emotional Conflict (EmC) Task across 10-15-year-old youth. During the EmC Task, participants indicated the emotion of facial expressions, while disregarding emotion-congruent and incongruent words printed across the faces. We examined the relationships of age, sex, and gonadal hormones with brain activity on Incongruent vs. Congruent trials. Age was negatively associated with middle frontal gyrus activity, controlling for performance and movement confounds. Sex differences were present in occipital and parietal cortices, and were driven by activation in females, and deactivation in males to Congruent trials. Testosterone was negatively related with frontal and striatal brain response in males, and cerebellar and precuneus response in females. Estradiol was negatively related with fronto-cerebellar, cingulate, and precuneus brain activity in males, and positively related with occipital response in females. To our knowledge, this is the first study reporting the effects of age, sex, and sex steroids during an emotion-cognition task in adolescents. Further research is needed to examine longitudinal development of emotion-cognition interactions and deviations in psychiatric disorders in adolescence.

Keywords: Adolescence; Age; Hormones; Puberty; Sex differences; fMRI.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Child
  • Conflict, Psychological*
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Facial Expression*
  • Female
  • Gonadal Steroid Hormones / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Male
  • Oxygen / blood
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual / physiology*
  • Puberty / physiology*


  • Gonadal Steroid Hormones
  • Oxygen