New Study to Offer Insight into the Adolescent Brain

There is a lot we don’t know about the effects of a child’s routine activities—sports, sleep, or screen time—on his or her developing brain. A new long-term study recently launched at 19 research sites around the country and funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) will collect significant data on normal, healthy teen behavior and its impact on neurological, social, emotional, and cognitive development. It also will examine some of the unhealthy and risky behaviors indicative of those experimental teenage years. 

The Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) study aims to follow 10,000 children, from age 9 through early adulthood, to gather a trove of data, including—for the first time in a study of this size—brain images. Just as pediatricians monitor height and weight, the study, launched last month, will chart brain growth and development during the pivotal teen years. The NIH’s National Institute on Drug Abuse and National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism are leading the study. The Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development is one of several NIH partners participating in the effort.

This 10-year study will be tracking multiple variables and outcomes; among them, the effects of substance use (e.g., nicotine, alcohol, tobacco) on the adolescent brain. But it also will provide valuable information on teens who don’t experiment with drugs and alcohol, who exercise regularly, play music and sports, and spend time on social media. This bank of data and images will likely become a standard measure for researchers to use as a comparison—to fill gaps in our understanding of cognition, emotion, personality, and behavior. Ultimately, the study promises to help parents, educators, and health professionals improve children’s health and well-being.

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