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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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As seen in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, BBC News, CNN, Reuters,  SharpBrains is an independent market research firm tracking how brain science can improve our health and our lives.

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