Return to the Teenage Brain

Oct 9, 2016

By Richard A. Friedman

There’s a reason adults don’t pick up Japanese or learn how to kite surf. It’s ridiculously hard. In stark contrast, young people can learn the most difficult things relatively easily. Polynomials, Chinese, skateboarding — no problem!

Neuroplasticity — the brain’s ability to form new neural connections and be influenced by the environment — is greatest in childhood and adolescence, when the brain is still a work in progress. But this window of opportunity is finite. Eventually it slams shut. Or so we thought.

Until recently, the conventional wisdom within the fields of neuroscience and psychiatry has been that development is a one-way street, and once a person has passed through his formative years, experiences and abilities are very hard, if not impossible, to change.

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2 comments on “Return to the Teenage Brain

  • This is an excellent little compilation of studies restoring/analysing neural plasticity. The removal of the methyl tags on genes (the result of cortisol?) allowing their “normal” expression is hugely encouraging for the individual but even more significant if this undoes the epigenetic run on into the next few generations.

    The only risk is that libertarians will use this treatment amongst the very poor rather than providing decent enough welfare. (The USA is the only OECD country where poverty actively causes IQ depression rather than be merely correlated with it.)

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  • Although this ‘New York Times’ article is well written, it is based only on four singular studies. Also, the rat study is more than 10 years old – which probably means this study was not even replicated.
    Genes for schizophrenia is also a very controversial topic and the data report very small effect sizes – also see:
    Additionally, the study based on abused children is not new information – it is well known that mind states (stress, etc.) result in epigenetic changes in the brain and that these are reversible using mind-related interventions (such as mindfulness) as described in the following article published in Nature Neuroscience: Davidson and McEven (2010). Social influences on neuroplasticity: stress and interventions to promote well-being, Nature Neuroscience, 15(5), (there are hundreds of other research studies – it would take me too long to list many articles).
    Sometimes I wonder if these types of articles (New York Times article) are written to promote a ‘pill for everything’ (which is what pharmaceutical companies like to do).

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