“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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