According to a study led by researchers at Orygen, the National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health, development of self and mental illness may have a connection.
Published in Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, the study led by Orygen’s Associate Professor Christopher Davey shows the brain regions that are important for the self are more active, and show greater connectivity, in earlier adolescence.
The fact that mental illness emerges in young people at the same time as their sense of themselves is developing is a clue that the processes are probably related, said Associate Professor Davey.
“Our examination of the particular brain regions that change as the self develops is a guide as to the brain regions that are likely to be vulnerable to mental illness,” Associate Professor Davey said.
“As the young person gets older, these brain regions show less activity, and less connectivity, when they think about themselves. We attribute this to young adults having a firmer self-concept than adolescents: as being able to more easily think about their attributes,” he said.
“The findings cast light on important developmental processes. We think these developmental trajectories are likely to be affected by mental illness.”
Associate Professor Davey said the next step would be to examine how the developmental processes are affected by mental illness. “We know that mental illness affects the sense of self that a young person has, and we can assume that this is accompanied by changes in brain connectivity between the relevant brain regions.”
“We would be interested to understand how mental illness affects the underlying developmental processes, and also how effective treatment might improve any deviations from a normal trajectory of illness”, he said.