Researchers in the United States have discovered which part of the brain controls our ability to control our impulses, which may predict possible mental health problems in adolescence and adulthood.
Adolescence is a period of transition from late childhood to adulthood, punctuated by hormonal, psychological, and physical changes. During this period, the anatomy of the brain evolves into maturity and causes many cognitive and behavioral changes.
Researchers from the Lifespan Brain Institute at the University of Pennsylvania and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia studied the activity of neural circuits that underlie self-control during adolescence, in particular to establish whether it is possible to predict and anticipate possible mental health problems in adulthood. Their study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Better understanding to anticipate
“By looking at brain development during childhood and adolescence, we better understand how the brain supports executive function and self-control in healthy and mentally weak children,” says lead author Theodore Satterthwaite, assistant professor of psychiatry at Penn. Executive function is the brain’s ability to adapt and get used to new situations. Examples: correcting a mistake, moving from one task to another, dealing with the unexpected, anticipating, acting logically, pursuing a goal, keeping a schedule, and so on.
Since abnormalities in the development of brain connectivity and deficits in executive function are often linked to the emergence of mental illness in young people, our results can help identify biomarkers of brain development that predict cognitive and clinical outcomes later in life. In other words, by looking at the development of neural connections and changes in executive function in an adolescent, researchers may be able to predict whether or not the adolescent will be mentally healthy as an adult.
Better understanding of impulse control
To conduct this study, the researchers recruited 727 participants between the ages of 8 and 23. Using a highly sophisticated imaging technique called multimodal neuroimaging. The researchers found that executive functions such as impulse control which can be particularly difficult to manage in children and adolescents depend in part on the development of the structure of function in complex areas of the brain, such as the prefrontal cortex.
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