01 Nov Study Charts How Executive Brain Functioning Matures Through Adolescence
MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Brenden Tervo-Clemmens, Ph.D.
Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences
Masonic Institute for the Developing Brain
Scholar, Institute for Translational Neuroscience
University of Minnesota
MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study?
Response: Both contemporary and historical theories of neurobehavioral development suggest executive functions (EF) mature through adolescence. These are often used in various contexts to try to demarcate the developmental boundaries of the adolescent period. However, the specific maturational timing of executive function, and the independence of various potential executive function subcomponents remain unknown. Building from prior investigations with relatively small datasets or narrow subsets of executive function measures, this work using four independent datasets (N>10,000) and 17 distinct executive function assessments provides a precise charting, multi-assessment investigation, and replication of executive function development from adolescence to adulthood.
MedicalResearch.com: What are the main findings?
Response: Using non-linear modeling techniques this work demonstrates that nearly all executive function measures follow a similar developmental trajectory during adolescence, with rapid age-related change from late childhood to early adolescence (10–15 years old), small but significant changes in mid-adolescence (15–18 years old), before stabilizing to adult-levels in late adolescence (18–20 years old). We also found that the consistency of this developmental shape could be explained in part, by a generalized executive function development where age-related improvements lead to correlated gains across different tasks.
MedicalResearch.com: What should readers take away from your report?
Response: Together, we suggest the advances here in the more precise charting (via nonlinear modeling) and reproducibility across datasets can support refinements of the neurobehavioral basis of adolescence and distinguish this from other lifespan periods, which is essential for a full spectrum of basic to translational science. Refining conceptualizations of developmental periods and relevant theories requires broad consensus and consideration of a number of factors (many of which we were not able to examine here). That said, these data set us towards firmer footing on understanding when an adolescent reaches adulthood and what is particularly unique about this period of the lifespan.
MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a results of this study?
Response: There are important considerations for future work that are discussed in far more nuance in the published (open-access) manuscript. That said, we believe these results should be expanded to include adolescents from different cultures and contexts, as all of the datasets used in the current work from the United States. Likewise, we think assessing executive function outside of the lab and more in the real-world will be an important next step to translate these results towards clinical applications.
Citation: Tervo-Clemmens, B., Calabro, F.J., Parr, A.C. et al. A canonical trajectory of executive function maturation from adolescence to adulthood. Nat Commun 14, 6922 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-023-42540-8
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Last Updated on November 1, 2023 by Marie Benz