Adolescent brain, Florida International University

500 years of medicine. Today: Are teenagers really irrational?

Royal College of Physicians
11 Saint Andrews Place
Event time
2 Jul 2018

On the face of it, teenagers can seem as though they behave irrationally and impulsively, taking excessive risks. Yet neuroscience reveals that something much more complex may be going on.

Join Professor Sarah-Jayne Blakemore of UCL as she explains her research into the development of the adolescent brain in humans.

Our social cognitive processes are involved in navigating an increasingly complex world. These processes start to develop in childhood and continue to do so throughout adolescence.

Whilst this stage in human life is often seen as characterised by irrational behaviour, these behaviours can be interpreted as both rational and adaptive. This understanding comes from appreciating that a key goal of this period is to mature into an independent adult living in a social world that is unstable and changing.

Over the last twenty years neuroscience research has shown that the human brain develops both structurally and in the way it works during adolescence. Areas of the social brain undergo significant reorganization during this crucial second decade. These major changes may in turn reflect a particularly sensitive period for adapting to the social environment.

Whilst adolescence brings risks and vulnerabilities (particularly to mental ill health), it is also a crucial period of opportunities, as the social brain reorganises itself in preparation for adulthood.

These major findings from the work of cognitive neuroscience have wide-ranging implications for how we structure public health and education to best meet the needs of today’s teenagers and tomorrow’s adults.

Of equal interest to parents and teenagers, teachers, medical professionals and anyone with a stake in the future, this event is open to everyone.

The Royal College of Physicians presents this fascinating free lecture as part of a season marking its 500th anniversary, reflecting on the history and future of medicine, society and health.

Professor Sarah-Jayne Blakemore

Sarah-Jayne Blakemore is Professor in Cognitive Neuroscience at UCL. She is Leader of the Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience Group and Deputy Director of the UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience.

Professor Blakemore is actively involved in public engagement with science activities and has an interest in the links between neuroscience and education. She also worked with Company Three on their play, Brainstorm, written and performed by teenagers, which was shown at the National Theatre in London.


6pm - Arrival refreshments (tea and coffee)

6.30pm - Lecture starts

7.30pm - Lecture finishes

Spaces at this event and the others in the 500th anniversary series are strictly limited, and we anticipate them booking out well in advance. Reserve your place now.

Booking for other events in the series also open:

May to October 2018: 500 years of medicine: Discover Medical London Walking Tours
Thursday 14 June 2018: 500 years of medicine. The 1700s: enlightenment, revolution and crisis
Monday, 02 July 2018: 500 years of medicine. Today: Are teenagers really irrational?
Tuesday 10 July 2018: 500 years of medicine. The 1800s: conflict, empire and identity
Thursday 13 September 2018: 500 years of medicine. The 1900s: doctors, smoking and public health