Learning and plasticity in adolescence
Fuhrmann, Delia Ute Dorothea
- Publisher: UCL (University College London)
Adolescence is the period of life between puberty and relative independence. It is a time during which the human brain undergoes protracted changes - particularly in the frontal, parietal and temporal cortices. These changes have been linked to improvements in cognitive performance; and are thought to render adolescence a period of relatively high levels of plasticity, during which the environment has a heightened impact on brain development and behaviour. This thesis investigates learning and plasticity in adolescence in four experimental studies. Study 1 examined age differences in face cognition, a key component of social cognition, by testing face perception and face memory performance in 661 participants aged 11 - 33. Study 2 tested whether the effects of social exclusion are age-dependent by measuring cognitive performance after social exclusion in 99 participants between ages 10 - 38. For Study 3, 663 participants aged 11 - 33 were asked to complete 20 days of cognitive training to probe whether the effects of cognitive training are also age-dependent. Study 4 investigated the neural correlates of academic diligence in 40 girls aged 14 - 15, using functional and structural neuroimaging. The research in this thesis demonstrates protracted development of cognitive functions in adolescence, consistent with previous studies. It highlights adolescence as a window of opportunity for learning but also as a vulnerable phase during which the brain is particularly susceptible to harmful effects of social exclusion. Finally, it highlights that individual variability in self-control and underlying frontal systems may be related to academic diligence, and thus educational outcomes.
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