Easier to Accelerate Than to Slow Down: Contributions of Developmental Neurobiology for the Understanding of Adolescent Social Anxiety


Early adolescence poses many challenges for young people, and it is during this phase that social anxiety disorder (SAD) tends to develop. Research indicates that adolescents have a relatively immature neurobiological brake-system (based in the prefrontal cortex) in relation to a more matured alarm- or gas-system (based in the subcortical regions) compared to adults. For this reason, adolescents are more sensitive for developing vicious circles of dysfunctional emotion regulation strategies like avoidance of frightening situations, worry, and rumination as well as sleep disturbances compared to adults—all of which are factors that may contribute to the development of SAD. In this chapter, we explore the genetic, neurobiological, cognitive, behavioral, and social explanations as to why some adolescents are more vulnerable for developing SAD than others. We propose a theoretical model, based on a neurobiological model proposed by Sommerville and colleagues (Brain Cogn 72(1):124–133, 2010), where early development of the subcortical regions in combination with late development of the prefrontal cortical regions is expected to predict an increase in emotionally driven behavior as well as difficulties to control them during adolescence. According to our model, we hypothesize that adolescents with poor peer and parent relationships will have a larger developmental gap between these regions compared to adolescents with supportive peer and parent relationships. Finally, we discuss how including mothers, fathers, and peers in the study of social anxiety, and taking into account both emotion regulation and sleep patterns, may be an important next step in the understanding of who may be at risk for developing social anxiety and why.


Social anxiety disorder Emotion regulation strategies Adolescence Developmental neurobiological gap Subcortical regions Prefrontal regions Peer relationships 


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© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Law, Psychology and Social WorkÖrebro UniversityÖrebroSweden

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