Probing hormones and personality underlying the emergence of adaptive and maladaptive behaviors in adolescence

Patterson, Megan Wales
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Adolescence is uniquely characterized by alterations on multiple levels, such as biological changes associated with puberty, shifts in personality and behavior, and fluctuations in social contexts. Aspects of adolescent-specific development may set the stage for teens to achieve adult levels of competence, but also place them under increased stress resulting in deleterious outcomes. Adolescent increases in sensation seeking have been observed across cultures and species, suggesting functional significance rooted in basic biological maturation that occurs during puberty. Gonadal hormones have effects on neurobiological processes, implicating puberty-related hormonal change as a mechanism for changes in adolescent behavior, such as risk-taking and psychopathology. Researchers have speculated that hormones are responsible for behavioral associations with puberty; however, research on hormone-behavior associations in adolescence has been largely cross-sectional and has yielded inconsistent results. Informed by the animal literature on the timing-dependent action of hormones, we hypothesize that measuring intra-individual change in hormones is essential to understanding their sex-specific effects on behavior. The proposed dissertation will use data from an on-going, population-representative study of children and adolescents, capitalizing on the large cross-sectional sample size (N>1000), as well as longitudinal assessments of hormones and behaviors to investigate puberty-related processes underlying adolescent behavior. The overarching goal of this dissertation is to evaluate the degree to which typical adolescent development, as marked by sensation seeking and rises in pubertal hormones, relates to both adaptive and maladaptive behaviors in a normative adolescent sample