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Study debunks the “earlier is always better” myth about brain development and cognitive training

teenagers_collegeGood News: You’ve Got a Bet­ter Brain Than You Think (Time):

Get­ting old­er? No worries…When does our learn­ing poten­tial start to go soft? A new paper pub­lished in Psy­cho­log­i­cal Sci­ence sug­gests that it might be lat­er than we thought.

The study, led by cog­ni­tive neu­ro­sci­en­tists Lisa Knoll and Delia Fuhrmann of Uni­ver­si­ty Col­lege Lon­don, involved a sam­ple group of 633 sub­jects, divid­ed into four age groups: young ado­les­cents, rough­ly 11–13 years old; mid-ado­les­cents, 13–16; old­er ado­les­cents, 16–18; and adults, 18–33…the results were exact­ly the oppo­site of what would be expect­ed from tra­di­tion­al ideas of learn­ing capa­bil­i­ty.

The rea­son for the find­ings was less of a sur­prise than the find­ings them­selves. Brain devel­op­ment is a far slow­er process than it was once thought to be, and neu­ro­sci­en­tists know that this is espe­cial­ly true of the pre­frontal cor­tex, which in some cas­es is not ful­ly wired until age 30. This has its down­sides: impulse con­trol and aware­ness of con­se­quences are high­er-order func­tions that live in the pre­frontal, which is the rea­son young adults are a lot like­li­er to make risky choices—cliff div­ing, drunk driving—than old­er adults. But learn­ing lives in the pre­frontal too, which means the knowl­edge-hun­gry brain you had when you were young may stick around longer than you thought.”

Study: A Win­dow of Oppor­tu­ni­ty for Cog­ni­tive Train­ing in Ado­les­cence (Psy­cho­log­i­cal Sci­ence)

  • From the abstract: In the cur­rent study, we inves­ti­gat­ed win­dows for enhanced learn­ing of cog­ni­tive skills dur­ing adolescence…Training yield­ed some improve­ment in per­for­mance on the numeros­i­ty-dis­crim­i­na­tion task, but only in old­er ado­les­cents or adults. In con­trast, train­ing in rela­tion­al rea­son­ing improved per­for­mance on that task in all age groups, but train­ing ben­e­fits were greater for peo­ple in late ado­les­cence and adult­hood than for peo­ple ear­li­er in ado­les­cence. Train­ing did not increase per­for­mance on the face-per­cep­tion task for any age group. Our find­ings sug­gest that for cer­tain cog­ni­tive skills, train­ing dur­ing late ado­les­cence and adult­hood yields greater improve­ment than train­ing ear­li­er in ado­les­cence, which high­lights the rel­e­vance of this late devel­op­men­tal stage for edu­ca­tion.

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Categories: Cognitive Neuroscience, Education & Lifelong Learning

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