Even scientists can have a tough time understanding the teenage brain, but researchers like Beatriz Luna, PhD, are making progress. Dr. Luna studies adolescent brain and cognitive development, focusing on the mechanisms that underlie the transition from child- and adolescent- to adult-level cognitive control and processing. She uses multiple neuroimaging approaches to study the brain processes that underlie cognitive development and to establish adult trajectories in order to develop a normative neurocognitive pediatric growth chart, which can help identify impaired trajectories to prevent mental illness. Dr. Luna also studies patients with psychosis and substance use disorders and studies the brain’s neural reward system and vulnerability during the teenage years. Dr. Luna’s understanding of adolescent neurocognitive development has helped inform the U.S. Supreme Court on extended sentencing in the juvenile justice system.
As founding director of Pitt’s Laboratory of Neurocognitive Development, Dr. Luna and colleagues use a variety of neuroimaging techniques and other methods to investigate normative and atypical cognitive development. Dr. Luna earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology at American University, her master’s in clinical psychology at Duquesne University, and her developmental psychology PhD at Pitt, where she completed postdoctoral training in neuroimaging and neuroscience in the Department of Psychiatry.