You are here

Cognitive Development in Adolescence

23 September, 2015 - 15:43

Although the most rapid cognitive changes occur during childhood, the brain continues to develop throughout adolescence, and even into the 20s (Weinberger, Elvevåg, & Giedd,2005). 1 During adolescence, the brain continues to form new neural connections, but also casts off unused neurons and connections (Blakemore, 2008). 2 As teenagers mature, the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain responsible for reasoning, planning, and problem solving, also continues to develop (Goldberg, 2001). 3 And myelin, the fatty tissue that forms around axons and neurons and helps speed transmissions between different regions of the brain, also continues to grow (Rapoport et al., 1999). 4

Adolescents often seem to act impulsively, rather than thoughtfully, and this may be in part because the development of the prefrontal cortex is, in general, slower than the development of the emotional parts of the brain, including the limbic system (Blakemore,2008). 5 Furthermore, the hormonal surge that is associated with puberty, which primarily influences emotional responses, may create strong emotions and lead to impulsive behavior. It has been hypothesized that adolescents may engage in risky behavior, such as smoking, drug use, dangerous driving, and unprotected sex in part because they have not yet fully acquired the mental ability to curb impulsive behavior or to make entirely rational judgments (Steinberg, 2007). 6

The new cognitive abilities that are attained during adolescence may also give rise to new feelings of egocentrism, in which adolescents believe that they can do anything and that they know better than anyone else, including their parents (Elkind, 1978, p. 199). 7 Teenagers are likely to be highly self-conscious, often creating an imaginary audiencein which they feel that everyone is constantly watching them (Goossens, Beyers, Emmen, & van Aken, 2002). 8 Because teens think so much about themselves, they mistakenly believe that others must be thinking about them, too (Rycek, Stuhr, McDermott, Benker, & Swartz, 1998). 9 It is no wonder that everything a teen’s parents do suddenly feels embarrassing to them when they are in public.