Adolescent Neurocognitive Maturity Mediates Paths to Altered Social Norms and Vulnerability in Emerging Adulthood
El Damaty, Shady
VanMeter, John W
Fishbein, Diana H
The transitional period between adolescence and adulthood is a high-risk period for social strain and adversity leading to experiences of violence and altered normative civic beliefs. In this dissertation, I examine cognitive skills and neural development in relation to social and environmental co-factors to identify paths leading to adverse outcomes in emerging adulthood. The rate of risk accrual was measured longitudinally during adolescence and found to predict future violent outcomes independently of the Behavioral Inhibition and Approach Systems, a self-report behavioral instrument for measuring motivational cognitive systems. Paths to violence perpetration began with risk accrual in adolescence, followed by elevated environmental strain leading to social exclusion and heightened experiences of violence that effected an alteration of normative social and civic beliefs in adulthood. Adult males that experienced greater violence were more likely to report positive attitudes toward delinquency and the use of violence, and in consequence, perpetrate fighting and bullying behavior. A novel method for computing a cognitive maturity index was developed using neuropsychological task performance to fill in the self-report gap between cognitive development and violence risk accrual. Advanced cognitive maturity was common in females further along in puberty as indicated by elevated inhibitory control of reflexive motor actions, less risk-taking, lower time preference for immediate rewards, and sensitivity to negative emotional faces. Delayed adolescent neurocognitive maturation was more common in physically developed males and directly drove the risk for future experiences of violence through desensitization to negative affect and greater reward responsivity and impulsivity. Age-related changes in cognitive skills and violence risk were explained by changes in brain volume, wiring, and activity measured with Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). Prefrontal cortical and striatal volume, fractional anisotropy, and functional connectivity were revealed to mediate the development of inhibitory control and interact with risk and reward appraisal and facial affect processing to predict maturity. The synthesis of neuropsychological task performance with biophysical measures of the developing brain and sociodemographic factors demonstrate adolescence is a period of cognitive and social malleability susceptible to social influences in determination of lifespan outcomes in emerging adulthood.
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