As children transition into their teenage years, it’s clear that many of them attempt to take on a greater role of independence. As they age just one year, they start to believe that they’re old enough to go out on their own or make decisions for themselves.
Of course, accompanied with this new sense of self-determination, come the parents of said children who tell them that they aren’t able to make decisions on their own yet – partly because their brain hasn’t fully developed. Whether it be at home or in a court of law, the notion that teenage minds do not fully develop until 25 years old has long existed. As many studies have attempted to decode the mysteries of the developing brain in adolescence, they have pushed to the side an even more important question: Why does the human brain stop developing at the age of 25?
The truth is, the human brain does not stop developing at the age of 25. In the past decade, scientists have taken larger steps in exploring the development of the human brain. In fact, the consensus among scientists before the early 1900s was that the human brain was hard-wired, only subject to change when an individual is growing. More specifically, scientists had targeted the end stage of behavioral development based on the growth of the corpus callosum (1). They had “observed an increase in the size of the corpus callosum as long as human mentation expands, up to the middle 20s” (2). This study, conducted in 1993, suggests that the physical structures of the human brain do indeed stop growth in the mid 20s. However, although the human brain may not physically grow anymore past the age of 25, there’s a substantial amount of evidence that reflects a new form of development in the brain; neuroplasticity.
Neuroplasticity, a term coined by Ernesto Lugaro in 1906, is essentially the brain’s ability to reorganize itself or adapt to certain situations or experiences. In fact, Lugaro’s professor, Eugenio Tanzi, hypothesized that there was a relationship between neuronal growth and experience, which led Lugaro to question the brain’s ability to reform itself based on the chemical nature of synaptic transmission or what he called “nervous conduction” (3). In other words, Lugaro found that the brain was capable of changing throughout life, learning from experiences, adapting, and even recovering. At this point, Lugaro had transformed the scientific realm, opening up new discussions in how neuroplasticity can be used for further analysis
And so, neuroplasticity simply means the brain’s ability to learn from the environment around us. As we’re constantly exposed to a certain environment, we pick up skills that are a result of our brain’s response to that very own environment. Whether it be learning how to ride a bike or trying to teach a dog new tricks, neuroplasticity comes into hand when we need to pick up new skills and essentially challenge ourselves.
Not only does neuroplasticity tell us that our brain is constantly developing as we’re facing new experiences, but it also reveals how we have a certain amount of power over our own brains. As we decide to embark on repeated specific experiences, we’re able to restructure the neural circuits in the brain ourselves. Neuroplasticity tells us that our daily schedule becomes a part of who we are – as long as we always stick to it. But, when we change that schedule – we immediately enter a vast world of habits, skill-sets, and abilities unknown to us – but still very much conquerable, thanks to neuroplasticity!
(1) Corpus callosum are a band of fibers, which connect the two hemispheres of the brain
(2) Pujol, J, et al. “When Does Human Brain Development End? Evidence of Corpus Callosum Growth up to Adulthood.” Advances in Pediatrics, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 1 July 1993, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8517683.
(3) “Eugenio Tanzi (1856–1934) and the Beginnings of European Neurology.” Taylor & Francis, http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/09647049409525607.