Teenagers and Sheltering-in-Place: Special Challenges

Headshot of Dr. Monica Luciana

Monica Luciana, PhD, is concerned that measures like the COVID-19 shelter-in-place orders present unique challenges for adolescents. In her research, Luciana considers the scientific underpinnings of why adolescents engage in more risky behavior than either children or adults.  Currently, she is exploring why adolescents are so positively motivated to seek rewards, including a particularly potent source of reward for adolescents: the presence of peers.

In Luciana’s Brain and Behavioral Processes Laboratory, her team uses a combination of methods to explore the relationship between the brain and human behavior.  One method uses functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) techniques to identify which regions of the brain are activated by different stimuli and at rest. In 2015, Luciana supervised student colleagues who conducted a meta-analysis of 30 fMRI studies that were focused on adolescent reward processing.  Based on a total sample of 830 subjects the researchers were able to identify the brain regions involved, the regions that were most active during reward processing, and how these regions and their functioning differed between adults and adolescents.  By understanding the anatomy of the brain and which regions are involved in processing different behaviors, Luciana and others may be able to better understand and prevent mental health problems, many of which emerge during adolescence.

Parents know that their teenagers are influenced significantly by peers:  the presence or absence of peers and the approval or disapproval of one’s peer group has a significant impact on how adolescents behave. Teenagers are also eager to try new things. They are likely to find the current suspension of regular in-person, peer-to-peer interactions to be especially difficult.  Luciana’s research can help us better understand the neural processing that may be contributing to these challenges. Adolescents experience the neural processing of rewards differently than adults and the more we know, the better we can help in times of stress or when things go awry - either in their personal lives or in our world. 

Monica Luciana, PhD, is a Professor of Clinical Psychology and Distinguished McKnight University Professor at the University of Minnesota’s Department of Psychology. Specializing in brain and behavior relationships in adults and children, she researches how the brain controls working memory, planning, and emotional control. She works with the Minnesota Center for Twin and Family Research on the national Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) Study, which researches the brain and cognitive development of adolescent singletons and twins.


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