Pandemic related stress has aged the teenage brain
According to findings released by California’s Stanford University this year, it appears that the brains of adolescents after pandemic lockdowns can look several years older than their pre-pandemic counterparts. Research published in the Biological Psychiatry: Global Open Science, by Ian Gotlib, professor of Psychology in the School of Humanities & Sciences, explains that a young person’s brain usually experiences intense growth in the hippocampus and amygdala during puberty and the early teenage years. These areas are involved in memory and emotional regulation. Gotlib compared the MRI scans of 163 children before and after the pandemic and found that the developmental process accelerated during national lockdowns. Prior to this global event, Professor Gotlib explains, this type of ‘brain age’ was only common amongst those who have experienced severe chronic adversity, typically in the form of violence or family dysfunction. “Compared to adolescents assessed before the pandemic, adolescents assessed after the pandemic shutdowns not only had more severe internalising of mental health problems, but also had reduced cortical thickness, larger hippocampal and amygdala volume, and more advanced brain age”. Professor Gotlib adds that it is not clear if the changes are permanent for these adolescents, and wonders whether the participants’ chronological age will eventually catch up with their ‘brain age’, or if in fact their brains will remain older throughout their lives. Read more here.