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Portrait: © Eveline Crone | Image: © www.istockphoto.com
Adolescence is marked by significant physical, cognitive and socio-emotional changes. Despite these well-known developments, the neural mechanisms supporting this phase of growth in the life of human beings remain unknown. Prof. Eveline Crone has carried out for the first time a longitudinal study to investigate the brain processes underlying the behaviour of teenagers.
With her ERC grant, Prof. Crone has led a comprehensive study on a sample group of 299 teenagers, boys and girls, over a period of four years. The teens were observed during two different sessions, with a three-year interval. This longitudinal approach, tracking the same individuals over time, allows, rather than age comparisons, the examination of developmental trajectories in a single person and gives extensive information about individual development.
The neuroscientist has carried out her research work in schools, with questionnaires and computer-based tests, as well as in her laboratory at the University of Leiden, using brain imaging methods such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and hormone assessments.
Prof. Crone’s objective is to elucidate some important questions such as: how does the maturation of the brain relate to changes in our capacity to hold information in mind? Does brain development precede or follow major milestones in behaviour? How do changes in the environment (such as friendships and relations with parents) support changes in the developing brains?
She focuses on the way in which changes in cognitive and social-emotional teenagers’ behaviour are linked to functional brain development, structural brain changes and hormonal levels. Her first findings, suggesting that there are imbalances in adolescent brain development, could contribute to increasing current knowledge of cognitive and social-emotional development during adolescence. Once completed, this project could open new scientific horizons for understanding the underlying factors in adolescent growth can have an impact on the education and psychology fields.