BJ Casey Ph.D., Director, Sackler Institute for Developmental Psychobiology; Professor of Developmental Psychobiology, Weill Medical College of Cornell University
Catherine Hartley, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology, New York University
Adolescence is a transitional stage of development during which an individual becomes increasingly autonomous, relying less on one’s parents and more on oneself to regulate their behavior. Pronounced changes in social, sexual, physical and intellectual domains occur during adolescence. The adolescent brain is remarkably adaptable to these new experiences and environmental demands, undergoing regional changes in neurochemistry, structure, and function. This period of environmental and neurobiological flux is also associated with heightened vulnerability. Adolescence is a peak time for the onset of most forms of mental illness, and mortality rates undergo a two-fold increase during adolescence, in part due to risky or impulsive behaviors. These statistics underscore the importance of characterizing the dynamic forces that influence adolescents’ developmental trajectories. There is tremendous opportunity to understand adolescent development through a broader lens that encompasses their physical environment, their community, social, and family networks as well as neurocognitive and behavioral processes within the individual adolescent that reflect adaption to that environment. In an era of big data and novel digital, genetic, imaging, and bioinformatics tools, this rich technology can be leveraged within large longitudinal studies to capture in real time the dynamic changes, both within the individual and in their social and physical environment, which will be essential for understanding this critical period of development. This framework is the basis of The HUMAN Project initiative to improve our understanding of human behavior.