Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder affects the brain’s ability to assert self-control, of particular concern during adolescence. That’s when the negative consequences of poor self-control can result in choices that can diminish lifetime possibilities for achievement, such as dropping out of school, substance abuse, driving while under the influence or engaging in unprotected sex.
How the brains of adolescents with ADHD differ from those of people without the condition will be the focus of research funded by a new, four-year, nearly $3 million grant from the National Institute of Mental Health to researchers with the UC Davis MIND Institute. The study will examine ADHD, brain development and self-control among teens and young adults.
The researchers said their study will be the first longitudinal functional brain imaging study to assess the underlying neural mechanisms of self-control at work in ADHD. This pioneering work will also be the first to study how components related to self-control develop in typically developing teens and young adults and relate to academic outcomes.
The grant to Julie Schweitzer, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, and her colleagues, will examine how differences in the trajectory of brain systems change in response to development in 100 typically developing teens and young adults and 100 study participants with ADHD between the ages of 12 and 23.
“This project is novel because we have very little information gathered in a longitudinal fashion, where we assess change in brain functioning in the same participants, over a period of time in either typically developing teens or those with ADHD, ” Schweitzer said. “This study will go the next step and also examine how measures of brain functioning might predict how well teens perform academically, stay in school and get their high school diploma or are able to reliably go to work.”
Schweitzer said the study will tease apart the underlying brain processes and behavior that contributes to how adolescents and young adults make decisions that can have long-term consequences. For example, in the study a teen will be asked to decide whether to respond to a text from a friend or ignore it and keep studying for a test. Responding to a text might be much more enticing at the time, but earning a good grade might help with getting a job or into college.
“Having the self-control to ignore immediate rewards, such as text messages, appears to be harder in the teen years. We want to find out what neural systems govern those decisions and how we might identify different interventions that might work better at different developmental stages for teens with and without ADHD,” Schweitzer said.
At the UC Davis MIND Institute, scientists engage in collaborative, interdisciplinary research to find the causes of and develop treatments and cures for autism, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, fragile X syndrome, 22q11.2 deletion syndrome, Down syndrome and other neurodevelopmental disorders. For more information, visit mindinstitute.ucdavis.edu.