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The Teenage Brain IS Different

Hot on the heels of discoveries that teenagers need to sleep more (especially in the mornings) and that they see things differently from adults, comes confirmation that their brains are wired differently.

A new study has revealed that teenagers’ mental abilities can improve or decline as they grow older. Till now, scientists assumed that intellectual capacity (IQ) remained broadly static throughout life.

David Shukman, the BBC’s science and environment correspondent, reported test results at 14 repeated when sample students were 18 showed that some improved, while some got worse. The testing was a mix of brain scans and verbal/non-verbal IQ tests.

Shukman argued this has enormous implications for academic testing of young people and timings of when they should be making decisions about their future work and training. He quoted Professor Cathy Price of the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuro-imaging at University College London, who said the results could be ‘encouraging to those whose intellectual potential may improve and… a warning that early achievers may not maintain their potential’.

Professor Price explained how teenage brains and IQs change over time, that intelligence can develop. This is partly due to teenagers maturing at different ages, but also recognises that many benefit from the experience of their secondary education.

It’s How They Think That Matters

In March 2010, Richard Knox wrote on National Public Radio a story about teenage brains just not being grown up. He quoted Frances Jensen, neurologist in Boston, USA, inspired to research when her own kids hit teenage, who’d discovered ‘it’s not so much what teens are thinking — it’s how’.

Scientists used to think human brain development was complete by around 10 years (an adult brain with fewer miles on it), but they now know that youngsters’ frontal lobes are not fully connected.

She explained that the lobes deal with questions like: is this a good idea? what is the consequence of this action? It takes more time for the ‘white matter’ or myelin in the frontal lobe nerve cells to develop fully.

TeenageBrain Blogspot calls the teen brain ‘a work in progress’ and offers articles of help to particularly harassed parents of teenagers. As technology goes on scanning everybody’s brain, behaviour and thoughts, will the day ever come when:

  • the teenager is properly understood?
  • teenage isn’t a foreign country they’ll grow out of?


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Photo: Dale Mahalko