Adolescent Psychopathology and the Developing Brain: Integrating Brain and Prevention Science

Adolescent Psychopathology and the Developing Brain: Integrating Brain and Prevention Science

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Many of those who frequently interact with adolescents have resigned themselves to the fact that the period between childhood and adulthood is inevitably characterized by risky and unhealthy behavior and also a time when previously healthy children will experience the first signs of mental disorder. Likewise, the popular media often present the adolescent brain as a work in progress, unprepared for the developmental changes that drive unhealthy behavior, and vulnerable to the genetic influences that seem to undermine mental health. But in the last decade, scientists have come to grasp the plasticity of the adolescent brain. Although important findings from both animal and human research show the effects of early maltreatment on brain development and how these effects can be transmitted across generations, new advances in our understanding also promise strategies for reversing these and other genetic predispositions. Research now suggests that mental health professionals and concerned parents may be able to take advantage of adolescent brain plasticity by fortifying strengths, avoiding maladaptive behaviors, and counteracting genes that would otherwise promote mental disorder. At one time considered mutually exclusive, according to the argument diligently supported by Daniel Romer and Elaine Walker, nature and nurture actually work in concert, shaping the development of the mature individual. The implications for our views of the treatability of mental disorder could be dramatic. A central question which this volume addresses is: With treatment and preventive interventions, can we enhance healthy functioning, prevent potential maladaptive behavior, and alter the developmental course of psychological disorders? In June 2005, a diverse group of psychologists, neuroscientists, and researchers came together at University of Pennsylvanias Annenberg Public Policy Center to discuss this question theoretically and practically from a variety of perspectives. The presentations from this fruitful meeting have been synthesized into Adolescent Psychopathohlogy and the Developing Brain: Integrating Brain and Prevention Science, a collection that offers prevention and neuroscience researchers the knowledge and background to embark on the study of developmental psychopathology, and the rationale to chart a new course.

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