Surprise to some parents, adolescent brains ARE wired for self-control

A Penn study shows developing brain networks support cognition in youth.

The human brain is organized into circuits that develop from childhood through adulthood to support executive function—critical behaviors like self-control, decision making, and complex thought. These circuits are anchored by white matter pathways that coordinate the brain activity necessary for cognition. However, little research exists to explain how white matter matures to support activity that allows for improved executive function during adolescence—a period of rapid brain development. 

profile rendering of a teen head with a ponytail and the highlighted brain neural pathways inside skull

Researchers from the Lifespan Brain Institute of the Perelman School of Medicine and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia applied tools from network science to identify how anatomical connections in the brain develop to support neural activity underlying these key areas. The findings were published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“By charting brain development across childhood and adolescence, we can better understand how the brain supports executive function and self-control in both healthy kids and those with different mental health experiences,” says the study’s senior author Theodore Satterthwaite, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Penn. “Since abnormalities in developing brain connectivity and deficits in executive function are often linked to the emergence of mental illness during youth, our findings may help identify biomarkers of brain development that predict cognitive and clinical outcomes later in life.”

Read more at Penn Medicine News.