Directors: Antonio M. Battro and Kurt W. Fischer
Program officer: María Lourdes Majdalani
Speaking to teens: Public perceptions of the ‘neurological adolescent’
The adolescent brain has become a flourishing project for cognitive neuroscience. In the mid 1990s, MRI studies mapped out the extended development in several cortical regions beyond childhood, demonstrating that profound structural maturation occurs during adolescence particularly in the frontal lobes. In the last ten years, numerous functional MRI studies have suggested that functions associated with these brain regions, such as cognitive control and social cognition undergo a period of development during adolescence. The notion that the “teen brain” is “different” has gained increasing visibility outside the neuroscience community, resonating strongly with current cultural conceptions of teenagers, in Western societies. This model of the developing teenage brain has increasing implications for policy makers and is becoming a new focus for educational curricula geared towards the plasticity of the adolescent cortex. At the same time, a new impetus has been placed on public engagement activities in science and in the popular science genre of the media that specifically attempts to “speak to teens” about emerging models of the developing brain. The model of the “teen brain” has in this way been popularized in the public sphere through the media and as part of science education. In this paper, I will draw on preliminary findings from an ongoing UK study to explore how teenagers, themselves, view the emerging model of the “neurological adolescent”, the applications of this neuroscientific knowledge and the implications for teenage life.