A large number of adolescents experience difficulty when choosing a suitable higher education program that matches their self-views. Stimulating self-concept development could help adolescents to increase their chances of finding a suitable major. We addressed this issue by examining the effects of a naturalistic self-concept training within a gap year context on behavioral and neural correlates of self-evaluations, as well as the long-term effects for future educational decision-making. In total, 38 adolescents/young adults (ages 16-24 years) participated in a 4-wave longitudinal study, with lab visits before, during, and after the training, including behavioral assessments and fMRI. During fMRI-scanning, they rated themselves on positive and negative traits in academic, (pro)social, and physical domains, and additionally filled out questionnaires related to self-esteem and self-concept clarity. Results showed that the positivity of domain-specific self-evaluations, self-esteem, and self-concept clarity increased during the training. Second, participants with lower medial PFC activity during self-evaluation before training showed larger self-esteem increases over the year. Moreover, mPFC activity increased after training for the evaluation of positive but not negative traits. Furthermore, individual differences in the rate of change (slope) in self-concept clarity and social self-evaluations positively predicted social adjustment to college and academic performance 6 months after training. Together, these findings suggest that self-concept can be modulated in late adolescents, with an important role of the medial PFC in relation to enhanced positive self-evaluations, and self-concept clarity as a predictor of future educational outcomes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)341–361
Number of pages21
JournalCognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience
Issue number2
Early online date27 Sept 2021
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2022


  • Adolescence
  • Educational decision-making
  • Gap year
  • Self-concept training


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