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Psychol Sci. 2016 Apr;27(4):549-62. doi: 10.1177/0956797615627625. Epub 2016 Feb 24.

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

Author information

1
Department of Psychiatry, Sackler Institute for Developmental Psychobiology, Weill Cornell Medical College.
2
Department of Psychology, University of California, Los Angeles.
3
Department of Psychology, Temple University.
4
University of Virginia School of Law, University of Virginia.
5
Columbia Law School, Columbia University.
6
New York University School of Law, New York University.
7
Department of Behavioral Neuroscience and Psychiatry, Oregon Health & Science University.
8
Department of Psychology, Northwestern University Institute for Policy Research, Northwestern University.
9
Department of Psychology, University of Miami.
10
Department of Psychiatry, Sackler Institute for Developmental Psychobiology, Weill Cornell Medical College bjc2002@med.cornell.edu.

Erratum in

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.

KEYWORDS:

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

PMID:
26911914
DOI:
10.1177/0956797615627625
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
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