Brain Development and Health Implications in Adolescents

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Abstract

The development of the adolescent brain is a complex process, and as our technology improves, our interest in the trajectory of this development seems to grow. Our understanding as well as resulting theories continues to be reshaped by these new (and sometimes not so new) findings. The literature had previously discussed development as a process of spurts and stops where rapid growth occurred followed by a synaptic pruning. The traditional theories attempted to coordinate behavioral observations with volumetric changes in specific brain regions. Current research allows us to see development with greater resolution, including white matter tracts (those responsible for communication between brain regions). These recent studies describe a more heterogeneous development than previously considered. This means that the development is not as symmetrical as previously believed, and some of the differences (e.g., gender differences by region) help better explain some of the paradoxical adolescent behavior which has perplexed generations (e.g., risk-taking behavior, and increased accidental deaths when processing speed, and more rational thought should be developing). In this chapter we discuss the overall developmental processes, and the behavioral as well as health implications.