The Teen Brain: Insights from Neuroimaging

The Teen Brain: Insights from Neuroimaging

Posted: March 5, 2014

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From The Quarterly, Winter 2014

Few parents are surprised to hear that the brains of teens are different. The teen brain is not a broken or defective adult brain. It has been exquisitely forged by evolution to have properties distinct from those of a child or an adult―differences that have been instrumental in our survival. A protracted period of dependence is related to prolonged brain plasticity, which confers both vulnerabilities and opportunities. Opportunities include the ability to master a wide range of vocational skills and enormous educational potential. Vulnerabilities include the consequences of impulsive behavior or poor decision making.

Adolescence is also the peak time for the emergence of several classes of psychiatric illness including psychosis, mood and anxiety disorders, eating disorders and substance abuse. In fact, the majority of all mental illnesses emerge during this time. Understanding the neurobiology of typical and atypical teen brain development may help optimize treatments or preventive efforts.

Dr. Giedd’s presentation described the research he leads to explore the path, mechanisms and influences on brain development in health and illness. He highlighted findings from his team’s 22-year longitudinal studies of the relationships of genes, brain and behavior, and discussed deviations from typical development related to illnesses and the implications of his research for children, teens, parents, educators, clinicians and society.

A summa cum laude graduate of the University of North Dakota, Grand Forks, Dr. Giedd earned his M.D. degree at the University of North Dakota School of Medicine. He completed an internship and residency in psychiatry at the Menninger School of Psychiatry, a residency at the Barrow Neurological Institute in Arizona, and a fellowship in adolescent psychiatry at Duke University Medical Center before joining the NIMH.

Jay N. Giedd, M.D.

Chief, Brain Imaging Section, Child Psychiatry Branch

National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)

Adjunct Professor of Family and Reproductive Medicine

Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health

2013 Ruane Prize for Outstanding Achievement in Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Research