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December 2023 Research Roundup

​Highlights from recent research on adolescent development

Recent research on adolescent development

In this issue of our quarterly Research Roundup, we provide an overview of some recent research showcasing the effects of neighborhood environments on adolescent development, the benefits of culturally tailored interventions, the trajectory of executive function development, and links between rumination and neural response to social rejection.

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In This Roundup


​Exposure to urban greenspace in childhood can benefit attentional abilities in adolescence

In this study, Despina Bolanis and colleagues explored whether exposure to residential greenspace (such as a tree-filled city park) in childhood relates to mental health outcomes in adolescence. Using longitudinal data from 742 participants, the authors found that youth who reported living in urban areas with more greenspace at age 10 had fewer inattention problems as reported by teachers in adolescence (ages 15 to 17 years). This association remained even when controlling for factors such as family and neighborhood socioeconomic status and prior mental health problems. (Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, October 2023).

Why this is important: These findings point to the impact of physical environments on development, suggesting that increasing greenspace in cities and urban areas may support the development of attentional capacities in adolescence.

A canonical trajectory of executive function maturation from adolescence to adulthood

Adolescence is a key period for the development of goal-directed cognitive abilities—commonly known as executive functions—that are crucial for healthy development and can be impacted in mental health disorders. Understanding the standard pattern of executive function development in adolescence can highlight critical periods for executive function development, which in turn can help identify shifts from these normative patterns that could indicate future difficulties and disorders. In this study, Brandon Tervo-Clemmens and colleagues combined data from multiple large datasets and across various cognitive assessments and tasks to explore the developmental trajectory of executive functions in a group of 10,766 individuals ages 8 to 35 years. The authors found rapid and significant development in executive function from late childhood to mid-adolescence (ages 10 to 15 years), with these complex cognitive abilities reaching their full potential in late adolescence (ages 18 to 20 years). (Nature Communications, October 2023)

Why this is important: This study maps how executive function develops over adolescence, suggesting that ages 10 to 15 are crucial years for executive function development–an understanding that can help inform developmentally appropriate interventions and policies for youth.

Parenting in 2 Worlds: Testing improved parent–adolescent communication about sexuality in Urban American Indian families

In this study, Stephen Kulis and colleagues tested the efficacy of a culturally tailored intervention designed to increase and improve parent-adolescent communication about sexual health in American Indian families. The intervention, called Parenting in 2 Worlds (P2W), combined core components of a traditional parenting program with cultural elements unique to American Indian families. Participants included 575 parents/guardians of American Indian adolescents between the ages of 10 to 17 years living in urban areas of Arizona. The program consisted of 10 lessons covering topics such as building supportive parenting communities, identifying cultural traditions, understanding adolescent development, and fostering communication skills. Importantly, the curriculum emphasized Indigenous cultural heritage as a foundation for raising healthy and resilient adolescents, incorporating values shared by diverse American Indian communities such as notions of kinship and the importance of ritual and traditional language. Compared to interventions not culturally tailored to Indigenous families, P2W produced greater increases in parent-adolescent communication about general sexual health and sexual decision-making. Increases in sexual health communication were strongest for cross-gender dyads (mother and son or father and daughter), while increases in communication about sexual decision-making were strongest for adolescent sons (regardless of parent’s gender). (Journal of Research on Adolescence, November 2023)

Why this is important: This study demonstrates the efficacy of the P2W program for improving sexual health amongst American Indian adolescents, emphasizing the benefits of culturally informed interventions designed specifically for the communities they aim to serve.

Neighborhood poverty during childhood prospectively predicts adolescent functional brain network architecture

In this study, Cleanthis Michael and colleagues examined how exposure to neighborhood poverty in childhood might impact the organization of brain networks in adolescence in a group of 538 twins over the ages of 6 to 19 years. The authors assessed two main aspects of functional brain network organization: network segregation (the degree to which the brain organizes into distinct, functionally specialized networks) and the balance between network segregation and integration (efficiency of information flow between brain networks). Both network segregation and balance increased during adolescence; however, these age-related associations were influenced by exposure to neighborhood poverty in childhood. Children who experienced greater neighborhood disadvantage showed reduced network segregation in adolescence. These effects were observed across various functional networks, emphasizing that neighborhood conditions in childhood may have enduring effects on the organization and development of the adolescent brain. (Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, December 2023)

Why this is important: This study suggests that exposure to neighborhood poverty in childhood can impact functional brain development in adolescence, highlighting the importance of policies and programs aimed at increasing available resources within neighborhoods to support positive development for young people.

Hooked on a thought: Associations between rumination and neural responses to social rejection in adolescent girls

In this study, Leehyun Yoon and colleagues investigated the association between self-reported rumination—persistent negative thought patterns—and neural responding to social rejection in a group of 116 adolescent girls. Participants completed a social evaluation task during which they received (fabricated) feedback in the form of acceptance or rejection from peers they liked or disliked. When rejected by peers they liked, girls with higher rumination levels showed more neural activity in areas of the default mode network, a key brain network for self-related processing. They also showed reduced connectivity between the default mode network and the subgenual anterior cingulate cortex (sgACC), a region implicated in rumination. Higher rumination was linked to slower response times on the task following rejection, and this effect was explained by neural activity during rejection. (Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, December 2023)

Why this is important: These findings link rumination to neural and behavioral response during social rejection, indicating the importance of developing more effective interventions to support the mental health of adolescent girls with high rumination levels.

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