When Is an Adolescent an Adult? Assessing Cognitive Control in Emotional and Nonemotional Contexts

Alexandra O. Cohen, Kaitlyn Breiner, Laurence Steinberg, Richard J. Bonnie, Elizabeth S. Scott, Kim A. Taylor-Thompson, Marc D. Rudolph, Jason Chein, Jennifer A. Richeson, Aaron S. Heller, Melanie R. Silverman, Danielle V. Dellarco, Damien A. Fair, Adriana Galván, B. J. Casey*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

94 Scopus citations

Abstract

An individual is typically considered an adult at age 18, although the age of adulthood varies for different legal and social policies. A key question is how cognitive capacities relevant to these policies change with development. The current study used an emotional go/no-go paradigm and functional neuroimaging to assess cognitive control under sustained states of negative and positive arousal in a community sample of one hundred ten 13- to 25-year-olds from New York City and Los Angeles. The results showed diminished cognitive performance under brief and prolonged negative emotional arousal in 18- to 21-year-olds relative to adults over 21. This reduction in performance was paralleled by decreased activity in fronto-parietal circuitry, implicated in cognitive control, and increased sustained activity in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, involved in emotional processes. The findings suggest a developmental shift in cognitive capacity in emotional situations that coincides with dynamic changes in prefrontal circuitry. These findings may inform age-related social policies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)549-562
Number of pages14
JournalPsychological Science
Volume27
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - Apr 2016

Keywords

  • adolescence
  • cognitive control
  • development
  • emotion
  • fMRI
  • legal policy
  • young adult

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)

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