I want to talk about something more scientific today, and that’s brain function and development through adolescence. I was inspired by a conversation I had with a friend of mine on the topic, specifically the idea that teens are unable to use their amygdala at all until they’re past adolescence. I was sceptical, so I’ve done a lot of research for this. I hope you enjoy it.
Throughout childhood and early adulthood, the brain is still developing. This patch is called adolescence, and it’s from approximately the age of seven or so to the early twenties. I’m pretty sure most of us know that already.
What I found was that in terms of intellectual power, both the adult brain and teenage brain are on the same level, while adolescents have a higher capacity to learn than adults have. Adults and adolescents engage different parts of the brain to different extents during tests requiring calculation and impulse control, or when responding to emotional content.
A good point I found was that in adolescents, the amygdalae (which control emotional responses, like to social situations or fear) are fully functional and even more active than their adult counterparts. However, the prefrontal cortex (which controls decision-making and impulse control) is still maturing.
I looked up studies on what age the amygdalae finish developing at, since that was the original thought, and found that the amygdalae to peak their growth at less than five years old. That’s right, less than five years old. It’s not the same for males and females, and also left amygdala versus right amygdala, but it’s still within the first few years for all instances.
The part that hasn’t developed yet, though, is that prefrontal cortex. That’s probably what the idea was supposed to be about, but whatever. It was fun to research anyway.
So I looked up when the prefrontal cortex finishes developing and that number looks a lot more accurate – around twenty-five years old. I also found out that since it’s not fully developed yet, teens instead think with the amygdalae while adults use primarily the prefrontal cortex. It’s all coming together now.
The prefrontal cortex is extremely important, and some sources describe it akin to the CEO of the brain, making the executive decisions. The common idea is actually true, that its development occurs all the way into the mid-twenties for most people. Of course, there are exceptions and variations, but that’s the most common age range.
Hopefully, this made sense and you got something out of reading it.
Sources, in no particular order: