Brains teenage and middle age: Weird behavior and improved function
October 4, 2010
TRUCKEE, Calif. and#8212; I live in a household comprised of one teenage brain and two middle-aged brains. Imagine my delight in finding two books by medical writer Barbara Strauch that attempt to make sense of both conditions! Way back in 2003, she wrote and#8220;The Primal Teen: What the New Discoveries About the Teenage Brain Tell Us About Our Kids.and#8221; As a 2010 follow-up, sheand#8217;s penned and#8220;The Secret Life of the Grown-Up Brain: The Surprising Talents of the Middle-Aged Mind.and#8221;
Strauch wrote the first book while parenting two teenagers, so her experience with the teenage brain was both academic and firsthand. It was billed as the and#8220;first book to provide a scientific explanation of the mysterious, infuriating, and downright weird behavior of teenagers.and#8221; Strangely enough, the prevailing belief in brain research up until the 21st century was that the teenage brain was largely complete by adolescence. Now we know otherwise. The teen brain is undergoing dramatic changes throughout adolescence, which explains why there is a gap between intelligence and judgment.
Up until recently, we had a tendency to blame raging hormones for irrational behavior. While hormones may play a role, it is a supporting role at best. Breakthrough research by leading neuroscientists shows the adolescent brain is an intensely busy work-in-progress, transforming some sections, radically pruning the synaptic connections, while strengthening those connections that remain. This immense and#8220;rewiringand#8221; project provides new clues to explain swift mood changes, out-of-character responses and reactions, and even the acts of sheer stupidity that have puzzled parents throughout history. The Primal Teen is a major step forward in deciphering and responding to the moody metamorphosis all teenagers go through. Hang in there and blame the pre-frontal cortex that governs decision-making, which doesnand#8217;t fully develop until age 25.—
Now for the really good news: brain capacity reaches its peak in middle age. Once again, the scientists were wrong in assuming that the human brain simply decayed over time and its dying cells led to memory slips, fuzzy logic, negative thinking and even depression. Actually, itand#8217;s quite the contrary, as Strauch details in the Secret Life of the Grown-Up Brain. She explores the latest findings that demonstrate, through the use of technology such as brain scans, that the middle-aged brain is more flexible and more capable than previously thought. The brain reorganizes, improves in important functions, and even helps us adopt a more optimistic outlook in middle age. Growth of white matter and brain connectors allow us to recognize patterns faster, make better judgments and find unique solutions to problems. Scientists call these traits cognitive expertise and they reach their highest levels in middle age.
Not only that, we middle-aged people feel better as we get older, more in control and more capable of handling the stress of life. Not only is our judgment better, we actually feel more cheerful and focus more on the positive than we did while young. So donand#8217;t fret too much when you forget where you laid your keys. Take solace in the new research that shows that our brain is programmed to grow wiser. Now if we could just get our teenagers to accept our wisdomand#8230;
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