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Tero Toivanen

The five ages of the brain: Adolescence - life - 04 April 2009 - New Scientist - 0 views

  • Jay Giedd at the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Maryland, and his colleagues have followed the progress of nearly 400 children, scanning many of them every two years as they grew up. They found that adolescence brings waves of grey-matter pruning, with teens losing about 1 per cent of their grey matter every year until their early 20s (Nature Neuroscience, vol 2, p 861).
  • This cerebral pruning trims unused neural connections that were overproduced in the childhood growth spurt, starting with the more basic sensory and motor areas.
  • Among the last to mature is the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex at the very front of the frontal lobe. This area is involved in control of impulses, judgement and decision-making, which might explain some of the less-than-stellar decisions made by your average teen. This area also acts to control and process emotional information sent from the amygdala - the fight or flight centre of gut reactions - which may account for the mercurial tempers of adolescents.
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  • These changes have both benefits and pitfalls. At this stage of life the brain is still childishly flexible, so we are still sponges for learning. On the other hand, the lack of impulse control may lead to risky behaviours such as drug and alcohol abuse, smoking and unprotected sex.
  • As grey matter is lost, though, the brain gains white matter
  • Substance abuse is particularly concerning, as brain imaging studies suggest that the motivation and reward circuitry in teen brains makes them almost hard-wired for addiction.
  • since drug abuse and stressful events - even a broken heart - have been linked to mood disorders later in life, this is the time when both are best avoided.
  • Making the most of this time is a matter of throwing all that teen energy into learning and new experiences - whether that means hitting the books, learning to express themselves through music or art, or exploring life by travelling the world.
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    Jay Giedd at the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Maryland, and his colleagues have followed the progress of nearly 400 children, scanning many of them every two years as they grew up. They found that adolescence brings waves of grey-matter pruning, with teens losing about 1 per cent of their grey matter every year until their early 20s (Nature Neuroscience, vol 2, p 861).
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