One of the ways that scientists have searched for the causes of mental illness is by studying the development of the brain from birth to adulthood. Powerful new technologies have enabled them to track the growth of the brain and to investigate the connections between brain function, development, and behavior. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) shares interesting research findings on the teen brain in its publication The Teen Brain Still Under Construction.
To give you a sneak peak of the highlights (but make sure you read it directly to get the full story!)… Recent brain scans have revealed that a high point in the volume of gray matter occurs during early adolescence, meaning it is a period of heightened opportunity for learning. Another study suggests that different parts of the cortex mature at different rates; more specifically, that the parts of the brain responsible for controlling impulses, and planning ahead —the hallmarks of adult behavior—are among the last to mature. Makes sense, right? Wait, there’s more!
An increase in connectivity occurs throughout childhood and well into adulthood which shapes how well different parts of the brain work in tandem. And as this connectivity becomes more efficient, new and more complex feats become possible for the brain translating into new skills and intelligences. The the brain circuitry involved in emotional responses is also changing during the teen years -reward system is involved and emotional reactions become more urgent and intense. So the parts of the brain involved in emotional responses are fully online, or even more active than in adults, while the parts of the brain involved in keeping emotional, impulsive responses in check are still reaching maturity.