The teen brain has received a lot of media coverage with advances in brain imaging techniques that provide a voyeuristic opportunity for us to look under the hood of the behaving adolescent brain. These methods together with sophisticated animal studies are providing new insights as to why young people experience and respond to the world in unique ways. The work in the Fundamentals of the Adolescent Brain (FAB) lab uses human imaging and animal models on topics that range from self-control to mental illness to social and legal policy. Rather than depicting the teen brain as defective, our research paints a picture of a brain that is sculpted by both biological and experiential factors to adapt to the unique social, physical, sexual and intellectual challenges of adolescence. Specifically we are interested in which situations lead to break downs in self control and which lead to adaptive behavior. When does the capacity for self control fully mature? How do changes in neural circuitry help to explain changes in self control across development? Whether these changes are observed in other species and if so, how might they be evolutionarily adaptive and when do they become maladaptive?
Fundamentals of the Adolescent Brain (FAB) Lab
The ABCD study is the largest long-term study of brain development and child health in the United States. The ABCD Research Consortium consists of a Coordinating Center, a Data Informatics and Analysis Center, and 19 research sites across the country, which will recruit approximately 10,000 children ages 9-10 and following them into early adulthood. Integrating structural and functional brain imaging with genetics, neuropsychological, behavioral, and other health assessments, the ABCD Study will increase our understanding of the many factors that can enhance or disrupt a young person’s life trajectory.
For more information please visit the ABCD website!
The many recent incidents of violence against young men of color by police officers in the United States has brought nation-wide attention to why impulsive actions often occur during these interactions. The primary focus of this project is to determine if there is a relative loss in cognitive control during racial outgroup encounters under brief and sustained states of threat. Using behavioral measures and a novel fMRI paradigm, we are examining the behavioral and neural correlates of impulsivity during these encounters. A better understanding of race-based loss of cognitive control during perceived threat could provide important insights to police-citizen interracial encounters under heightened states of arousal and offer new approaches for intervening.
Emotional experiences are pervasive in everyday life and can influence both thoughts and actions. In a laboratory setting, emotional and cognitive processes are often studied independently or as a series of brief emotional stimuli in cognitive tasks. Yet real world emotions are more commonly experienced as prolonged emotional states of arousal. Dysregulation of cue triggered emotions and emotional mood states are core features of several mental illnesses (e.g., anxiety and mood disorders) that peak in prevalence during adolescence—a time of heightened sensitivity to emotional inputs. We have developed a novel behavioral paradigm and use functional MRI to assess performance and neural circuitry underlying sustained negative (threat of an aversive noise) and positive (anticipation of winning money) emotional states. We first test for dissociable effects of both positive and negative emotional cues and states on performance and neural processes in healthy adults. We then examine the impact of both positive and negative emotional cues and prolonged states on behavior in teens 13-17, young adults 18 to 21, and over 21 year olds. Together these studies dissociate complex influences of emotions on behavioral and neural processes across development that may help to explain the peak in mental illness in young people that affect as many as 1 in 4. These findings also have implications for social and legal policies for the age range of 18-21, highlighting the need for policy reform in protecting young people from harm.