A Look Inside the Teen Brain: ABCD Study Update

Image of brain scans

MRI of adolescent brains activated during a memory task in ABCD study.

With permission. Source: Dr. Richard Watts and ABCD/Univ. of VT P.I. Dr. Hugh Garava

You can see how tall you’re growing, and how your older clothes don’t fit anymore. But did you know that your brain keeps changing, too? All the things you do, like playing sports or an instrument, or learning a new language, help to shape your brain as you move toward adulthood.

A huge project called the ABCD Study is working with more than 10,000 teens across the United States to help scientists answer a lot of questions about teens’ brains and health—questions like:

  • How does the teen brain change over time?
  • How is playing team sports or an instrument good for mental health?  
  • How do concussions impact achievement in school?
  • How does using drugs affect learning?
  • How do sleep and nutrition affect mental and physical health?

What happens in the study?

The teens in the ABCD Study will do things like:

  • Participate in activities that help scientists understand how teens learn and pay attention.
  • Go inside an MRI machine. The MRI is like a big doughnut-shaped magnet that takes very detailed pictures of the brain; the pictures allow scientists to see how the brain works when teens think and feel. Scientists also compare the pictures to see how they change over time, as teens continue to grow.
  • Use wearable devices that can record information about sleep and exercise. Scientists use this information to learn more about teens’ health and well-being.

The ABCD Study also will collect biological information like saliva (spit) for genetic testing. Did you know that your saliva contains your complete genetic code (DNA)? 

More to come

Scientists and teens will work together for the next several years in the ABCD Study, unlocking the mysteries of the developing teen brain. We’ll let you know what they discover, so keep an eye on this blog for updates.

Watch a video about how your brain works.

Find Help Near You

Use the SAMHSA Treatment Locator to find substance use or other mental health services in your area. If you are in an emergency situation, this toll-free, 24-hour hotline can help you get through this difficult time: call 1-800-273-TALK, or visit the Suicide Prevention Lifeline. We also have step by step guides on what to do to help yourself, a friend or a family member.

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