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New book highlights continued brain development throughout adolescence, even into our 20s

– Dr. Sarah-Jane Blake­more


Neu­ro­sci­en­tist Probes Myths About the Teenage Brain (Edu­ca­tion Week):

We often think ear­ly child­hood is this dra­mat­ic win­dow of learn­ing and devel­op­ment in the brain, and you’re high­light­ing ado­les­cence as a dif­fer­ent kind of win­dow. Can you talk a lit­tle bit about that?
I was told when I was an under­grad­u­ate that the human brain pret­ty much stopped devel­op­ing after mid-child­hood. From [mag­net­ic res­o­nance imag­ing] of liv­ing brains, we’ve dis­cov­ered that that’s not true at all—in fact, the brain con­tin­ues to devel­op right through­out child­hood and ado­les­cence and even into the 20s. That has launched an entire research field inves­ti­gat­ing the links between brain and behav­ioral devel­op­ment and social devel­op­ment dur­ing ado­les­cence.

What would you say is the most com­mon myth about ado­les­cence that you’ve been able to start break­ing down as you’ve stud­ied the neu­ro­science of it?
The ado­les­cent-typ­i­cal behav­iors like risk-tak­ing and impul­siv­i­ty and self-con­scious­ness, peer influ­ence, and even the stereo­type that ado­les­cents are lazy—those kinds of behav­iors were for a long time put down to the indi­vid­ual ado­les­cent being dif­fi­cult or mak­ing bad deci­sions or being lazy. But actu­al­ly, we now under­stand these behav­iors as a con­se­quence of very nat­ur­al and adap­tive bio­log­i­cal devel­op­ment…

There’s been a lot of dis­cus­sion of how to look at risky behav­iors by teenagers. Could you talk about what you’ve found?
There’s no evi­dence that ado­les­cents don’t eval­u­ate risk as well as adults. They absolute­ly under­stand the risk, but in the moment, … social-risk avoid­ance and the avoid­ance of being exclud­ed from the peer group is more impor­tant to teenagers than the avoid­ance of health risks or legal risks. That’s not nec­es­sar­i­ly a good thing, but it’s impor­tant for teenagers and it kind of puts risk-tak­ing in a more ratio­nal light. I think it’s a side effect of that devel­op­men­tal process. It’s real­ly impor­tant to take risks and to learn from tri­al and error. So there is prob­a­bly a dri­ve specif­i­cal­ly to take risks in ado­les­cence. We see it even in ani­mals.”

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Categories: Cognitive Neuroscience, Education & Lifelong Learning

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