07/05 The Adolescent Brain - Bulletpoints

Adolescent-specific patterns of behavior and neural activity during social reinforcement learning

  • Humans need to be able to decipher and learn from social signals. Especially during adolescence, the impact of social signals is magnified. When pre-adolescents enter adolescence, they tend to spend more time with their peers, and less time with their parents. They also rely more on their peers than on their parents for guidance and approval. They also show increased attention and higher neural activation in response to peer acceptance. When adolescents feel related to others and when they feel accepted, this is associated with higher self-esteem, and better adjustment in school. In contrast, when adolescents feel rejected, this can lead to school withdrawal, aggression and mental health problems.
  • Peers impact an adolescent’s behaviour in different ways. For instance, when there are peers in the car, accidents increase. This is only true for adolescents. When there are peers around during a decision-making task, this also leads to higher risky decision-making in adolescents compared to children and adults. Furthermore, when adolescents feel rejected by their peers, they are more likely to engage in risky behaviors, to fit in with the group. One explanation / theory is that feedback from peers serves as a reinforcer, a reward. Research has shown that the neural circuitry that evaluates social (praise, gain, positive affect) rewards overlaps with a neural circuitry that evaluates nonsocial (money, food) rewards. In adults, it has been shown that the ventral striatum (the reward area in the brain) supports learning from social feedback from peers.

Chapter 15: A Neurocognitive Perspective on the Development of Social Decision-Making

  • Humans are highly social compared to other species. Even 1-year-old toddlers help others. This social behaviour keeps developing and becomes increasingly complex with age. For example, preschoolers mainly use lies for their own benefits, while school-aged children start to lie to protect other’s feelings (white lies).
  • It has been shown that different brain regions mature at different ages. Sensorimotor regions in the occipital and parietal lobes mature first. The dlPFC and the TPJ are the latest brain regions to fully mature, which might explain the protracted developmental pattern in associated functions such as cognitive control and perspective taking. Affective networks mature early, while regions of the cognitive regulatory network mature late. This can explain why affective reactions to unfairness are visible early in development and why strategic considerations during social
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