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Sarah-Jayne Blakemore

Professor Sarah-Jayne Blakemore

Professor Sarah-Jayne Blakemore

Research Fellow

Interests and expertise (Subject groups)

Grants awarded

The adolescent brain: the effect of genes, puberty and early psychotic symptoms

Scheme: University Research Fellowship

Organisation: University College London

Dates: Feb 2013-Oct 2016

Value: £324,938.72

Summary: The focus of my group’s research is on how the brain develops during human adolescence. Adolescence, which comes from the latin adolescere meaning ‘to grow up’, is used to describe the period of transition between childhood and adulthood. Adolescence is a time characterised by change - hormonally, physically, psychologically and socially. Many psychiatric conditions have their onset in adolescence. In the past 20 years, research has shown that the brain develops both structurally and functionally during adolescence. My group is particularly interested in the development of the social brain, that is, the network of brain regions involved in understanding other people. We are also interested in how social influence affects decision making and risk-taking in adolescence. We test adolescents on computerised tasks in schools, and bring them into the laboratory to have magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) brain scans. Our behavioural studies enable us to study how performance on social cognition and risk-taking tasks changes during adolescence. For example, our studies have shown that adolescents are particularly sensitive to the feeling of being excluded by their peer group, and adolescents take more risks in gambling tasks than children and adults. The MRI scans enable us to look at changes in brain structure and function during adolescence. Over the past decade, we have found that the social brain, that is, the network of brain regions involved in thinking about other people’s minds, develops both in terms of its structure and how it functions between late childhood and adulthood. There are large individual differences in adolescent social and behavioural development, and understanding the mechanisms that contribute to these individual differences may shed light on why some adolescents negotiate the social pressures of this developmental period well, while others do not. The results of these studies could have implications for secondary school education.

Understanding others' intentions in adolescent development and in autism

Scheme: University Research Fellowship

Organisation: University College London

Dates: Oct 2007-Jan 2013

Value: £587,554

Summary: The focus of my group’s research is on how the brain develops during human adolescence. Adolescence is a time characterised by change - hormonally, physically, psychologically and socially. Many psychiatric conditions have their onset in adolescence. Yet until recently this period of life was neglected by neuroscience. In the past 15 years, research has shown that the brain develops both structurally and functionally during adolescence. My group is particularly interested in the development of the social brain, that is, the network of brain regions involved in understanding other people. We test adolescents on computerised tasks in schools, and bring them into the laboratory to have MRI brain scans. This enables us to study how performance on social cognition tasks, such as tasks that test an understanding other people's emotions and intentions, changes during adolescence. The MRI scans enable us to look at changes in brain structure and function during adolescence. In several studies we have found that, during adolescence, activity shifts between two key regions within the social brain during social understanding tasks. We are trying to understand why this is, how changes in brain activity relate to changes in brain structure, how changes in brain activity relate to typical teenage behaviour and how the hormonal changes at puberty influences brain development. There are large individual differences in adolescent social and behavioural development, and understanding the mechanisms that contribute to these individual differences may shed light on why some adolescents negotiate the social pressures of this developmental period well, while others do not. Findings from neuroscience could have an influence on teaching and learning and could contribute to a better understanding of why so many psychiatric conditions often have their onset in adolescence.

Scheme: Dorothy Hodgkin Fellowship

Organisation: University College London

Dates: Jan 2004-Sep 2007

Value: £172,403.60

Summary: This project summary is not available for publication.

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