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HDFS Mission Statement
– The mission of the Department of Human Development and Family Studies (HDFS) at Auburn University is to generate, disseminate, and apply scientific knowledge of human, family, and community development. We focus on understanding and supporting optimal development across the lifespan using multidisciplinary approaches and cutting edge methodologies. Our core areas include the intersections of individuals, families, and communities, with a special focus on relationships and the biopsychosocial underpinnings of healthy development and well-being. We are committed to creating and applying knowledge to prevention and intervention efforts with the goal of assisting individuals, families, and communities in reaching their full potential.

Lab Mission/Research Statement – Our goal is to better understand the decision-making process of adolescents. We do so by examining external factors that contribute to adolescent decision-making, as well as neurological and physiological indicators to bring understanding of this unique developmental stage of life.

New and intriguing research has started to identify ways in which teenage brains may be primed for risky, impulsive, and emotionally-driven behaviors. In combination with surging and fluctuating hormones that occur during puberty, quickly developing brain regions related to reward-processing make it particularly hard for teenagers to control their emotions and behave in ways that they know they should (i.e., behave in accordance with their goals and values).

Studies have shown that structures in the limbic system – areas of the brain that help to generate and process strong emotions – tend to mature more quickly than the areas of the brain that control and regulate emotional/behavioral responses. This makes it far more likely for teenagers to base their behaviors on impulses and emotions, rather than thinking things through before they act. Unfortunately, this may mean that when you ask your teenager why they behaved in a way that was stupid or impulsive, and they respond “I don’t know,” they are likely telling the truth.

The prefrontal cortex (PFC) is one of the last areas of the brain to develop/mature. Consequently, teenagers typically experience strong emotions and impulses, but demonstrate a limited capacity to regulate these feelings based on goals, values, and societal norms. As teenagers mature into adults, they become far better at regulating their bodily feelings, emotions, and behaviors based on context, thanks in large part to PFC development.


The best way to reach the Adolescent Decision-Making lab is typically via email. Participants (or interested parents/teens) are welcome to call (334-844-5966) or email our lab directly ( we miss your call, please leave a detailed message and we will be sure to contact you as soon as we are able to check our messages in the lab. Interested participants may also contact our principal investigator (, or our lab manager/lead graduate research assistant ( 

How to participate in our study (click for more detailed information)

For those who are interested in participating in our current research study (or parents of teens who might be interested), simply check out the criteria listed below and give us a call or send us an email if you are eligible. More information about the specifics of our study can be found on the “Participate” page, including a variety of frequently asked questions (e.g., “is the information collected kept private?”).

  • Does your teenager have any metal on them or inside of them, such as braces, piercings that cannot be removed, surgical pins or screws, pacemakers or any implanted electronic device?
  • Does your teenager have lead-based tattoos?
  • Does your teenager have a permanent retainer?
  • Is your teenager highly claustrophobic? (Not familiar with what an MRI entails? click for more detailed information)

If you answered “No” to all of these questions then give us a call or send us an email!

Auburn University MRI Research Center, 560 Devall Dr Unit 202, Auburn, AL 36832

Directions to MRI Center:

  1. Coming from I-85 N, take Exit 51.
  2. Turn onto US-29 N (S College St).
  3. Turn Left onto S Donahue Dr.
  4. Turn Left onto Devall Dr.
  5. MRI Research Center is on the right side just as the road begins to curve.

M.W. Smith Hall Auburn University, 208 M. White Smith Hall, 381 Mell Street, Auburn, AL 36849

Directions to MW Smith:

  1. Coming from I-85 N, take Exit 51.
  2. Turn onto US-29 N (S College St).
  3. Continue on S College St, and Turn Left onto Garden Dr.
  4. Turn Right onto Mell St.
  5. Turn Right, and M.W. Smith Hall will be the building on the right.