The Adolescent Brain
Adolescence is a unique period in which the development of the brain is still a work in progress. Eveline Crone explains the origins of teenagers’ emotional turbulence, why they suddenly find their friends’ opinions far more important than those of their parents and what we can expect of adolescents at school. Our teenage years are not just about risk-taking and testing boundaries, she argues. They also present opportunities that will not come again.
Whereas everything used to be attributed to hormones, research has shown that between the ages of thirteen and twenty the human brain is radically reconstructed. This extraordinary process has a drastic effect on the behaviour of children as they become adults. Faster neural pathways make exceptional achievements possible, but the rebuilding process takes years. The forebrain, seat of circumspection, does not become fully mature until we are twenty. Up to that age, adolescents incline towards impulsive outbursts and risky short-term decisions.
Crone’s accessible book looks at the function of hormones during puberty, the development of skills, the emotional brain, the social brain and the creative brain. ‘We often emphasise what adolescents cannot do,’ she concludes, ‘but puberty also presents unique possibilities in the fields of sport, music and art.’
Eveline Crone is professor of developmental and educational psychology at Leiden University’s Institute of Psychology. In 2005 she set up the Brain and Development Laboratory, which has a strong focus on the fundamental changes in brain function that underlie our ability to anticipate, produce and evaluate complex decisions in daily life. Crone’s current research centres around the development of cognitive control and decision-making in school-aged children and adolescents.