Prefrontal cortex and adolescents: what is behind the turkey age?

Posted by

What is adolescence? What is the age of the turkey? How does the prefrontal cortex influence adolescent behavior? In this article we tell you!

Adolescence welcomes very distinctive and profound changes at all levels, including the mental. The psychologist Stanley Hall defined it as a stage that marks a deep cut in childhood, characterized by emotional intensity, derived from deep illusions and fears. It has also been colloquially called “the age of the turkey  . The truth is that the age of the turkey has a reason: the prefrontal cortex does not usually finish fully maturing until it is 24 years old.

At a biological level, we can frame adolescence in the second decade of life: it is between 10-13 years of age (coinciding with puberty) to 18-25 years , a time that varies depending on cultural diversity.

“Although many boys and girls go through adolescence without experiencing special difficulties, it can be said that during these years problems increase in three areas: conflicts with parents, emotional instability and, above all, risky behaviors.”

-Oliva Delgado-

One of the reasons for the “turkey age” in adolescents is the ups and downs in their executive functions.

executive functions

We can define executive functions (EF) as the set of mental processes that allow us to consciously control different processes such as thought, behavior and affectivity. They are executive functions:

  • The working memory.
  • attentional control.
  • Decision making.
  • The planning.
  • The organization of time.
  • The anticipation of consequences.
  • Goal setting.
  • The ability to take the point of view of yourself and another person.

It is precisely the ups and downs in these executive functions that we know as “turkey age” . As a rule, adolescents are not very good at organizing themselves, setting meaningful and realistic goals, let alone anticipating the consequences of their actions. They are often impulsive in decision making; Furthermore, coming from a childhood in which they were often very sheltered, they underestimate the dangers of the real world.

Teenagers seek to experiment in a world where they will have to find their place; This is undoubtedly a difficult mission, in which they will have to face, and accept in many cases, certain contradictions.

“An immature brain is a vulnerable brain and, therefore, risky behaviors can compromise its development.”


the prefrontal cortex

The idea that the brain continues to form and develop after childhood is relatively new . Areas of the brain that support basic functions, such as those that control movement or sensory systems ( touch, sight, smell, and taste ), are the first to mature.

However, the brain regions that have appeared later in our evolution and that significantly differentiate us from other species are also the ones that take the longest to mature. One of them is precisely the region of the brain responsible for controlling and regulating executive functions. We are talking about the prefrontal cortex (PFC) and also the cingulate cortex (ACC).

“Among the mental faculties that depend on the frontal lobe, the ability to control instinctive impulses, decision making, planning and anticipation of the future, attentional control, the ability to perform several tasks at the same time, the temporal organization of behavior, the sense of responsibility towards oneself and others or the empathic capacity”.

-Antonio Damasio-

Adolescents often live with insecurity and certain emotional ups and downs, because their brain is not yet fully developed.

Thus, working memory reaches the level of functioning of an adult during the course of adolescence . The region of the brain that is responsible for controlling this cognitive function is the dorsolateral (dlPFC) and ventrolateral (vlPFC) prefrontal cortex.

In a 2006 study, the working memory performance of people at the end and beginning of adolescence was compared. The result was that the performance in the group of children was lower. And this is due, among other factors, to the fact that the CPF of people in the early stages of adolescence is far from fully developed.

“It is brain maturation that will allow adolescents to adapt to the environment, for example, through structural and functional brain remodeling in frontal and corticolimbic regions, and the special plasticity of the brain at that time in life. ”.


It should be said that the changes are not only produced per se in the prefrontal cortex, in the cingulate cortex and in other specific regions . They also improve the connections between them . Electrical cables are established between areas of the brain of better quality. Thus, connections with structures such as the amygdala (center that regulates emotions), the hippocampus (an important region for memory) and the caudate nucleus (very important for motivation) improve.

If children are very curious about the rules that govern the physical world, such as gravity, adolescents are very curious about the rules that govern the social world in which they will have to define their identity. A sphere where impulsiveness is usually highly penalized; however, as they gain experience, their prefrontal cortex matures, and the connections between various key centers in the brain improve, adolescents will be better able to regulate their behavior.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *