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Brain connections predict adolescent impulsiveness

There is a link in adolescents between brain connections and impulsiveness. Leiden researchers have discovered that these connections also predict which adolescents will make more impulsive choices two years further on.


The researchers are part of the Brain & Development Lab at Leiden University, headed by Professor Eveline Crone. They found that the pathways in the brain that are linked with impulsiveness (the 'emotional' striatum and the 'controlling' prefrontal cortex), also predict who will make impulsive choices later on. The research was carried out by having young adolescents choose between a smaller reward now and a bigger reward later, with an interval of two years between the studies. The researchers discovered that increased sensitivity to reward in the striatum in puberty is linked to current and future alcohol use. 

Brain Time

The researchers  monitored some three hundred young people between the ages of 8 and 28 over five years (2011-2015). During this period the brain structure and activity of the young people were examined twice while carrying out particular tasks. This is the first time that brain development in young people has been studied on such a scale. The findings will be published shortly in The Journal of Neuroscience and Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience.

Crone was awarded an ERC Starting Grant and a VICI subsidy from the NWO Innovational Research Incentives scheme to carry out this research.

Emotional and rational brain areas

In the Brain Time project, the researchers are studying the balance between emotional and rational areas of the brain in young people. The research focuses on learning, risk behaviour and the formation of friendships. Eveline Crone: ‘How is it that over time we are better able to learn, to make calculations and to carry out difficult tasks? When do we take risks and when do we play safe? How do friendships come about? Which young people are more vulnerable than others? Why do they consider other people’s opinions so important? What role does the brain play in these behaviours and how does the brain develop? Our work in this exciting project has given us answers to these questions.’ 

QR-code voor de app

Documentary and app presented at Brain Time Festival

The Brain & Development Lab at Leiden University presented the outcomes of the Brain Time study to the young participants and their parents at a specially organised  Brain Time festival on 29 January. The programme also included the first showing of BRAINTIME, a study of the growing brain, a documentary in which film maker Erik Heuvelink tracked young participants over several years. A telephone app was also launched to look at brain development on the basis of the Brain Time data for emotional and cognitive brain areas [see QR code].

Brain & Development Lab

The Brain & Development Lab is part of the Institute for Psychology at the Leiden University Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences. The Lab studies the relations between brain development and the social and cognitive development of children and adolescents. The research at the Lab focuses particularly on the question of how the development of the brain, including changes in function, structure and connections, is linked to developments relating to cognition,  emotions, risk behaviour and social decision-making. The Brain & Development Lab was set up in 2005 by Eveline Crone, Professor  of Neurocognitive Development Psychology. A team of more than 25 young researchers from different programmes is working on these questions.   

More about the Brain & Development Lab

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