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Brain Changes and Behaviour in Adolescence

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Brain Changes and Behaviour in Adolescence
Slide 1 (Title)
Today, I am going to talk about the brain changes and behaviours experienced during human
adolescence.
Slide 2 (Triune Brain Theory)
But before I do that, it is worth taking a moment to explore the development of the human
brain in general. According to the Triune Brain Theory (discussed in MacLean, 1990), the
human brain, broadly speaking, undergoes three developmental stages:
1. At birth, the only part of the brain sufficiently developed to function is the brain stem,
which governs basic survival functions only.
2. At approximately 13 years of age, the limbic system begins to mature, resulting in
the child’s development of emotions, feelings, and external relationships.
3. The development of the cerebral cortex (or neocortex or prefrontal cortex) governs
those higher cognitive functions, which differentiate humans from most other
mammals and include functions such as reason, rational thinking, logic, and language.
This part of the human brain does not mature until a person is in their mid-20s and
undergoes drastic changes during adolescence. This is what I am going to discuss
next.
Slide 3 (Brain Changes during Adolescence)
I am defining adolescence as the period between childhood and adulthood, and some authors
suggest an age range of approximately 10 to 24 years (Azzopardi et al., 2018).
The human brain undergoes several structural changes during this period and is subject to a
change in hormone levels. The changes include:
1. structural brain (re-)development, including synaptic reorganisation (Blakemore,
2008), which means the formation of new neurological pathways which result in
changes to emotional processing and motivation (Dahl, 2004);
2. functional changes, particularly in the medial prefrontal cortex and the superior
temporal sulcus (Blakemore, 2008) which result in behavioural changes; and

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3. remodelling of the brain’s dopaminergic system (Steinberg, 2008), which involves
functions such as learning, reward, motivation and impulse control; and
4. Changes in hormone levels, most notably an increase in the levels of gonadal steroid
hormones (Sisk & Zehr, 2005).
Slide 4 (Brain Changes: Pubertal Hormones)
I am now going to look at some of the biochemical triggers which originate in the brain in
more detail.
Ronald Dahl discusses the role of hormones during puberty and in particular the role of the
gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH), which is responsible for the release of follicle-
stimulating hormone (FH) and luteinizing hormone (LSH) from the pituitary gland resulting
in sexual maturity.
The release of growth hormone (GH) from the hypothalamus results in physical growth.
Sexual maturity and physical growth mean that adolescents are likely to be treated differently
by their social environment, which is likely to have an impact on individuals’ behaviour.
Slide 5 (Behaviours during Adolescence I)
So far, we have learned that adolescent behaviour is influenced by a reorganisation of the
brain (Sisk & Zehr, 2005) and changes in pubertal hormones (Dahl, 2004). The literature also
stresses that behaviour related to social cognition and processing changes dramatically
(Blakemore, 2008) in order to make the transition in social roles from child to adult happen
(Dahl, 2004).
The resulting reorientation of social behaviour (Dahl & Forbes, 2010) and changes in
motivation result in, for example:
increased self-consciousness and social anxieties (Dahl & Forbes, 2010)
stronger natural attraction to peers rather than family and potential conflict with
parents (Dekovića et al., 2004)
increased reward-seeking (Steinberg, 2008)

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Brain Changes and Behaviour in Adolescence Slide 1 (Title) Today, I am going to talk about the brain changes and behaviours experienced during human adolescence. Slide 2 (Triune Brain Theory) But before I do that, it is worth taking a moment to explore the development of the human brain in general. According to the Triune Brain Theory (discussed in MacLean, 1990), the human brain, broadly speaking, undergoes three developmental stages: 1. At birth, the only part of the brain sufficiently developed to function is the brain stem, which governs basic survival functions only. 2. At approximately 1–3 years of age, the limbic system begins to mature, resulting in the child’s development of emotions, feelings, and external relationships. 3. The development of the cerebral cortex (or neocortex or prefrontal cortex) governs those higher cognitive functions, which differentiate humans from most other mammals and include functions such as reason, rational thinking, logic, and language. This part of the human brain does not mature until a person is in their mid-20s and undergoes drastic changes during adolescence. This is what I am going to discuss next. Slide 3 (Brain Changes during Ado ...
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