Adolescence as a Sensitive Period of Brain Development

Trends Cogn Sci. 2015 Oct;19(10):558-566. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2015.07.008.


Most research on sensitive periods has focussed on early sensory, motor, and language development, but it has recently been suggested that adolescence might represent a second ‘window of opportunity’ in brain development. Here, we explore three candidate areas of development that are proposed to undergo sensitive periods in adolescence: memory, the effects of social stress, and drug use. We describe rodent studies, neuroimaging, and large-scale behavioural studies in humans that have yielded data that are consistent with heightened neuroplasticity in adolescence. Critically however, concrete evidence for sensitive periods in adolescence is mostly lacking. To provide conclusive evidence, experimental studies are needed that directly manipulate environmental input and compare effects in child, adolescent, and adult groups.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Brain / growth & development*
  • Humans
  • Memory / physiology
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology
  • Stress, Psychological
  • Substance-Related Disorders