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Research outcomes

Longitudinal Adolescent Brain Study (LABS) researchers will publish group level non-identifiable data in scientific journals and present at conferences. All publications will be available through USC Research Bank.

Featured research

Published research


Brain fingerprinting: A promising future application for predicting mental illness
  • A new vision for the future of mental health care is greatly needed
  • Brain changes in youth are likely to reveal key clues about mental health outcomes
  • We have evidence that brain uniqueness predicts later psychological distress
  • Brain scans that predict mental illness could be the future of mental health care
  • A potential future could include free brain scans for school-aged youths

View the published paper in Futures

Longitudinal associations between resting-state, interregional theta-beta phase-amplitude coupling, psychological distress, and wellbeing in 12–15-year-old adolescents

Published in Cerebral Cortex

Cross-frequency coupling between the phase of slower oscillatory activity and the amplitude of faster oscillatory activity in the brain (phase-amplitude coupling; PAC), is a promising new biological marker for mental health. Prior research has demonstrated that PAC is associated with mental health. However, most research has focused on within-region theta-gamma PAC in adults. Our recent preliminary study found increased theta-beta PAC was associated with increased psychological distress in 12 year olds. It is important to investigate how PAC biomarkers relate to mental health and wellbeing in youth. Thus, in this study, we investigated longitudinal associations between interregional (posterior–anterior cortex) resting-state theta-beta PAC (Modulation Index [MI]), psychological distress and wellbeing in N = 99 adolescents (aged 12–15 years). In the right hemisphere, there was a significant relationship, whereby increased psychological distress was associated with decreased theta-beta PAC and psychological distress increased with increased age. In the left hemisphere, there was a significant relationship, whereby decreased wellbeing was associated with decreased theta-beta PAC and wellbeing scores decreased with increased age. This study presents novel findings demonstrating longitudinal relationships between interregional, resting-state theta-beta PAC and mental health and wellbeing in early adolescents. This EEG marker may facilitate improved early identification of emerging psychopathology.

Sex differences in brain volumes and psychological distress: The first hundred brains cohort of the longitudinal adolescent brain study

Published in Neuroimage: Reports


  • Unique adolescent mental health and multimodal neuroimaging dataset.

  • Adolescent females have greater psychological distress compared to age match males.

  • Differences in subcortical volumes between sexes, but not in gross brain structures.

  • Sex specific relationship between psychological distress and right amygdala volume.


Neurodevelopment during early childhood and adolescence are recognised as critical periods, with potential life-long lasting impacts on mental health and wellbeing. The time-frame of these neurodevelopmental changes also correspond to one in five individuals aged 9–17 years old being diagnosed with a mental health condition. Furthermore, sex-based differences in the diagnosed prevalence of mental health conditions are also well characterised and can be leveraged to differentiate development of brain structures between sexes throughout childhood and adolescence. During adolescence, early observed mental health symptoms, alongside measures of brain development, may provide utility toward understanding both the onset timing of various mental conditions, and a neurobiological explanation for disproportionate prevalence's among sexes. This study aims to determine sex differences in psychological distress levels and structural brain volume relationships in early adolescents. To address this question, we first present and then utilise the ‘first hundred brains’ (FHB) cohort, a multimodal dataset of 12-to-13 year-olds individuals enrolled in the Longitudinal Adolescent Brain Study (LABS). The FHB dataset consists of 101 unique individuals (47 female), aged 13.01 ± 0.55 years. Psychological distress was measured using the Kessler-10, a self-report questionnaire probing recent experiences of anxiety and depression symptoms. All participants underwent 3T MRI brain scans. T1-weighted structural scans were processed using FreeSurfer's Sequence Adaptive Multimodal segmentation pipeline, with volume measurements from 39 regions of interest included in the analyses. Findings revealed that compared to age matched males, early adolescent females have significantly higher psychological distress as well as significantly larger hippocampi and ventral diencephalon, bilaterally. Correlational analyses revealed a significant positive association between psychological distress scores and right amygdala volumes for males, but not in females, or the combined cohort. In this initial analysis of the FHB dataset, we have identified significant sex differences in psychological distress, brain volumes, and the relationships between these two metrics. With the peak age-of-onset for many psychiatric disorders occurring during adolescence, research focused on youth mental health vulnerability and opportunity for early detection, prevention and improvement is vitally important.

Early adolescent psychological distress and cognition, correlates of resting-state EEG, interregional phase-amplitude coupling

Published in International Journal of Psychophysiology

Delineating neurobiological markers of youth mental health is crucial for early identification and treatment. One promising marker is phase-amplitude coupling (PAC), cross-frequency coupling between the phase of slower oscillatory activity and the amplitude of faster oscillatory activity in the brain. Prior research has demonstrated that PAC is associated with both cognition and mental health and can be modulated using neurostimulation. However, to date research investigating PAC has focused primarily on adults, and only within-region theta-gamma coupling in the context of mental health. We investigated associations between interregional resting-state PAC (posterior-anterior cortex), and cognition and psychological distress in N = 77 (Mage = 12.58 years, SD = 0.31; 51 % female) 12-year-olds. Firstly, while left theta-beta PAC showed a moderate positive correlation (r = 0.529, p < .01), right theta-gamma PAC showed a weak positive correlation, with psychological distress (r = 0.283, p < .05). In terms of cognition, moderate correlations were observed between: (i) increased left theta-beta PAC and increased psychomotor speed (r = −0.367, p < .05); (ii) increased left alpha-beta PAC and decreased attention (r = 0.355, p ≤0.01); and (iii) increased left alpha-beta PAC and decreased verbal learning and memory (r = −0.352, p < .01). Whereas weak associations were observed for: (i) increased left alpha-beta PAC and decreased executive functioning scores (r = 0.284, p < .05); and (ii) increased left alpha-gamma PAC and increased attention (r = −0.272, p < .05). The overall findings of this exploratory study are encouraging, although all the correlations were in the weak-to-moderate range and require replication. Further research may confirm interregional resting-state PAC as a biomarker that can help us better understand the link between mental health and cognition in adolescents and improve treatment of cognitive related deficits in mental illness.

Structural connectivity and its association with social connectedness in early adolescence

Published in Behavioural Brain Research

Adolescence is a critical period of social and neural development. Brain regions which process social information develop throughout adolescence as young people learn to navigate social environments. Studies investigating brain structural connectivity (indexed by white matter (WM) integrity), and social connectedness in adolescents have been limited until recently, with literature stemming mostly from adult samples, broad age ranges within adolescence or based on social network characteristics as opposed to social connectedness. This cross-sectional study of 12-year-olds (N=73) explored the relationship between social connectedness (SCS) and structural connectivity in early adolescence, to gauge how this snapshot of WM development is associated with social behaviour. Whole brain voxel-wise diffusion tensor imaging was undertaken to determine correlations between SCS and fractional anisotropy (FA), radial (RD) and axial (AD) diffusivity of clusters within WM tracts. Significant negative relationships between FA and SCS scores were found in clusters within 11 WM tracts, with significant positive correlations between SCS and both RD and AD across clusters within 13 and 8 clusters, respectively. Clusters within the genu of the corpus callosum (CCgn) showed strong correlations for all three metrics, and regression models that included gender, age, and psychological distress, revealed SCS to be the only significant predictor of CCgn FA, RD and AD values. Overall, these findings suggest that those with lower social connectedness had a WM profile suggestive of reduced axonal density and/or coherence. Longitudinal research is needed to track such WM profiles during adolescent development and determine the associations with mental health and well-being outcomes.

Social Connectedness and Impulsivity as Predictors of Cyberbullying Behaviors in Early Adolescence

Published in Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment & Trauma, Vol.32(5), pp.726-744

Cyberbullying is recognized as a problematic behavior that is often first identified during adolescence, a period which has increased susceptibility to developing mental health disorders. Due to the ever-growing nature of social media and technology, cyberbullying behaviors are becoming increasingly problematic for the adolescent demographic. Research has shown that impulsivity, social connectedness, and gender may influence cyberbullying behaviors. To our knowledge, the current study was the first to investigate the direct relationship between these variables and cyberbullying involvement in early adolescents. The sample consisted of participants of the same age and school grade, in order to ensure that data were comparable regarding stage of social development. The sample was 12-year-old participants in grade 7 (N = 69), recruited from the Sunshine Coast, Australia. It was hypothesized that higher impulsivity, lower social connectedness, and female gender would predict higher cyberbullying perpetration and victimization. The results did not support this hypothesis; however, a significant positive relationship between cyberbullying perpetration and victimization was revealed, as well as between impulsivity and social connectedness. Findings from this study help to inform preventative interventions to protect vulnerable individuals from serious mental health disorders, as well as support the need for further research in this area.


A longitudinal study of functional connectome uniqueness and its association with psychological distress in adolescence
Social Connectedness, Cyberbullying, and Well-being: Preliminary Findings from the Longitudinal Adolescent Brain Study

Published in Cyberpsychology, Behaviour and Social Networking

Structural equation modeling revealed a mediating effect of social connectedness on the relationship between cyberbullying and well-being. In other words, the negative influences of cyberbullying and cybervictimization on well-being scores over time are influenced by levels of social connectedness. The present findings highlight that increased social connectedness in young people is vital to promoting positive well-being over time and can protect wellbeing in those experiencing cyberbullying and/or cybervictimization. Findings can inform cyberbullying education programs, health care practitioners, parents, and educators on the importance of young people remaining socially connected when experiencing cyberbullying and/or cybervictimization.

Cyberbullying, metacognition, and quality of life: preliminary findings from the Longitudinal Adolescent Brain Study (LABS)

Published in Discover Psychology

Findings: Structural equation modeling revealed significant associations between cyberbullying, cybervictimisation, metacognitive beliefs, and quality of life (QoL). However, mediation analysis showed that only cognitive confidence acted as a partial mediator between cybervictimisation and QoL. The results suggest those who were more frequently cybervictimised had reduced confidence in their memory, which resulted in lower QoL. In addition, uncontrollability/danger and superstition, punishment, and responsibility were all negatively associated with QoL, indicating that as these metacognitive beliefs increased, QoL decreased. Our findings highlight the detrimental impact that cybervictimisation experiences can have on QoL in young people over time, and that some forms of metacognitive beliefs can also impact QoL. These findings can inform educators and health professionals on the importance of metacognition in regard to QoL over time, particularly in those who experience cybervictimisation.

Basal ganglia correlates of wellbeing in early adolescence

Published in Brain Research
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This cross-sectional study examined relationships between grey matter volume (GMV) of
basal ganglia regions (caudate, putamen, pallidum and nucleus accumbens) and self-reported wellbeing
(COMPAS-W), in a sample of Australian adolescents aged 12 years (N = 49, M = 12.6, 46.9% female). Significant negative associations were found between left hemisphere caudate GMV and scores on ‘total wellbeing’, ‘composure’ and ‘positivity’. The results of this study indicate that smaller caudate GMV at age 12 is linked to increased subjective wellbeing. While seemingly counter-intuitive, our finding is consistent with previous research of decreased GMV in the pons and increased COMPAS-W scores in adults. Our results suggest that protective neurobiological factors may be identifiable early in adolescence and be linked to specific types of wellbeing (such as positive affect and optimism). This has implications for interventions targeted at building resilience against mental health disorders in young people.

EEG-based clusters differentiate psychological distress, sleep quality and cognitive function in adolescents

Read the full paper here


  • Flexible analysis pipeline identifies EEG-based clusters of individuals.
  • Clusters of 12-year-olds differentiated by resting state EEG characteristics.
  • Novel evidence on empirical, data-driven neurophysiological subgroups.
  • Bayesian models find differences in distress, sleep and cognition between clusters.
  • Potential applications for risk prediction and early intervention in adolescence.
Dataset of brain functional connectome and its maturation in adolescents

View the full paper here

We provided the dataset of brain connectome matrices, their similarities measures to self and others longitudinally, and Kessler's psychological distress scales (K10) including the response to each question. The dataset can be used to replicate the results of the manuscript titled “A longitudinal study of functional connectome uniqueness and its association with psychological distress in adolescence”. The functional connectome (whole-brain and 13 networks) matrices were calculated from the resting-state functional MRIs (rs-fMRIs). We collected rs-fMRI and Kessler's psychological distress scale (K10) in 77 adolescents longitudinally up to 9 times from 12 years of age every four months. After removal of data with excessive motion, 262 functional connectome matrices were provided with this paper. The 300 regions of interest (ROIs) were defined using the Greene lab brain atlas. The functional connectome matrices were calculated as correlations between time series from any pair of ROIs extracted from pre-processed fMRIs. This dataset could be potentially used to

  1. Understand developmental changes in the functional brain connectivity
  2. As a normal control database of functional connectome matrices
  3. Develop and validate connectome and network-related analysing methods.
Investigating Early Adolescent Sex Differences in Hippocampal and Amygdala Volumes, Sleep Quality and Psychological Distress

View the full paper here

Adolescence is a period of significant brain development and decreased sleep quality, making it an ideal period to investigate early indicators of anxiety disorders such as psychological distress. The amygdala and hippocampus have been implicated in the neurobiology of anxiety symptoms. Sex-based differences in anxiety symptoms and sleep quality suggest sex-specific indicators may be preferable to a “one size fits all” approach. N = 70 early adolescents (12 years) completed the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI), Kessler psychological distress scale (K10) and MRI scanning. Female participants were found to be poorer sleepers and to have higher psychological distress levels. Females also had larger right amygdala and hippocampal volumes than males controlling for total brain volume. Findings of sex-based differences in amygdala and hippocampal volumes as well as sleep and psychological distress at age 12 may represent an important step in elucidating sex specific early indicators of future mental health disorders.


Short strides to important findings: A short interval longitudinal study of sleep quality, psychological distress and microstructure changes to the uncinate fasciculus in early adolescents

Published in the International Journal of Developmental Neuroscience

Key finding: Reduced radial diffusivity & increased fractional anisotropy in the UF suggesting possible myelination; sleep quality also associated with this myelination process. Elucidating how sleep, psychological distress and maturation of the UF may co-develop during early adolescence.

A novel, complex systems approach to modelling risk of psychological distress in young adolescents

Published in Scientific Reports

Key finding: The Bayesian Network approach provides some evidence that high psychological distress in 12 year olds appears to be linked with poor diet, social connectedness and sleep.

Can measures of sleep quality or white matter structural integrity predict level of worry or rumination in adolescents facing stressful situations? Lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic

Published in Journal of Adolescence
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Sleep quality (PSQI total) was significantly poorer during COVID compared with pre-
COVID. Sleep onset latency measured pre-COVID was significantly associated with COVID-specific
worry and rumination. While the structural integrity of a number of WM tracts
(measured pre-COVID) were found to be significantly associated with COVID-specific worry and
rumination. Follow-up regression analysis using a model including pre-COVID sleep onset latency,
structural integrity of the posterior limb of the internal capsule (PLIC), gender and change
in PSQI explained a significant 47% of the variance in COVID-specific worry and rumination.
Conclusions: These findings suggest that adolescents with poor sleep quality and perturbed WM
integrity may be at risk of heightened reactivity to future stressful events and interventions should
focus on improving sleep onset latency.


Using measures of intrinsic homeostasis and extrinsic modulation to evaluate mental health in adolescents: Preliminary results from the Longitudinal Adolescent Brain Study (LABS)

Read this paper published in Psychiatry Research

Key findings:

  • In the first 50 LABS participants (all 12 years old): 16% had psychological distress levels that were consistent with having a mental disorder; 20% reported suicidal ideation
  • Sleep and social connectedness are important external modulators mental wellbeing
  • Systems thinking (a wholistic approach to analysis) is key to understanding and improving adolescent mental health
  • A heatmap matrix that illustrates the overall associations between influences on and indicators for adolescent mental health
Associations between Facial Emotion Recognition and Mental Health in Early Adolescence

Read this paper, published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health

Key findings:

  • In this study of 40 LABS participants (12 years old), we found associations between increased mental health problems and a processing bias for anger and fear negative facial expressions.
  • This indicates that increased psychological problems may negatively impact on social cognition and functioning in early adolescents (or vice versa; hence the importance of longitudinal studies).
Investigating the association between sleep quality and diffusion-derived structural integrity of white matter in early adolescence

Read the full paper, published in the Journal of Adolescence

Key findings:

Significant correlations were found between the posterior limb of the internal capsule and the PSQI total sleep quality and sleep latency scores. There was also a significant difference in sleep duration between male and female participants.

These findings provide an important insight of the impact that sleep may have on early adolescent WM development. Ongoing longitudinal assessment of sleep on WM development across adolescence is likely to provide further important information about how WM maturation relates to variations in sleep quality as circadian rhythm changes occur during middle and late adolescence.

Associations between sleep quality and psychological distress in early adolescence

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Key findings

  • Consistent with previous findings, bivariate correlations revealed significant positive linear relationships between K10 total score and (i) PSQI total score; (ii) sleep quality; (iii) daytime dysfunction; and (iv) sleep disturbance. However, contrary to previous findings, there was no significant correlation between K10 scores and sleep duration.
  • The association between sleep quality and psychological distress in early adolescents provides some important clues about the role that sleep may play in predicting the onset of anxiety and depressive disorders. Longitudinal studies should be undertaken to investigate age-related changes in sleep and psychological distress.
Suicidality in 12‑Year‑Olds: The Interaction Between Social Connectedness and Mental Health

Published in Child Psychiatry & Human Development

Suicidal thoughts and behaviors (STB) are a leading cause of death in adolescence. To date, most research with youth has focused on risk factors for suicide; and less attention has been paid to resilience factors. This study examined whether positive beliefs and social connectedness moderate associations between mental health symptoms and STB. A community sample of 12-year-olds (N = 60) completed self-report questionnaires on their STB, mental health symptoms, positive beliefs and social connectedness. Nearly 20% of the adolescents reported STB. STB was associated with increased mental health symptoms and lower scores on the resilience measures. A significant moderating effect of social connectedness showed that youth with a combination of poor mental health and high levels of social support exhibited lower levels of STB. There was no significant moderating effect of positive beliefs. These results indicate that social support should be screened for in primary care and incorporated into youth suicide prevention programs.


Subcortical volume correlates of psychological distress in early adolescence

Read this paper, published in Developmental Neuroscience

Key finding:

  • In this specialised brain imaging study of 32 LABS participants we found that sub-sections of the amygdala and hippocampus, two brain structures which play significant roles in the control of emotion and memory, respectively, are significantly reduced in volume in those with increasing levels of psychological distress.
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