New research sheds light on adolescents' ability to control impulsivity and think through problems.
Recent findings of many other studies have also demonstrated physical changes in the "social brain;" document connections between early home life and brain function in adolescence; and examine the impact of diet on depressive-like behaviour in rodents.
The new findings show that:
Adolescents can throw impulsivity out the window when big rewards are at stake. The bigger the reward, the more thoughtful they can be, calling on important brain regions to gather and weigh evidence, and make decisions that maximize gains, says researcher BJ Casey.
In another study, Christopher Butt found that rodents that receive an omega-3 fatty acid in their diets, from gestation through their early development, appear less vulnerable to depressive-like behaviours during adolescence.
Depression in older adolescent boys may be associated with changes in communication between regions of the brain that process reward, according to a study including Erika Forbes, PhD.
At the same time, the study found possible connections between early emotional attachments - particularly with mothers - and later reward system function.
Early cognitive stimulation appears to predict the thickness of parts of the human cortex in adolescence, and experiences at age four appear to have a greater impact than those at age eight, suggests researcher Martha Farah, PhD.
According to Kathryn Mills, during the span of adolescence, the volume of the "social brain" - those areas that deal with understanding other people - changes substantially, with notable gender differences.
"Advances in neuroscience continue to delve deeper and deeper into the unique and dynamically changing biology of the adolescent brain," said press conference moderator Jay Giedd, MD, of the National Institute of Mental Health, an expert on childhood and adolescent brain development.
"The insights are beginning to elucidate the mechanisms that make the teen years a time of particular vulnerabilities but also a time of great opportunity," he added.