Sometimes we view adolescence as a modern phenomenon. It is a state which is parodied and bemoaned in equal measures amongst the ‘older’ generation, who wonder aloud why teenagers often behave in such an impulsive and selfish fashion. But according to Sarah Jayne Blackmore, it’s explained by simple science.
MRI scanning now allows us to image the brain’s activity during various tasks. A major centre of change is in the pre- frontal cortex. This area of the brain is involved in social interaction and self awareness. The volume of its grey matter decreases during adolescence in a form of synaptic fine tuning. This development is largely dependent on the environment of the individual.
The limbic system is a second important area in neuroanatomy. This represents the brain’s natural ‘reward system’ and often acts unrestrained in adolescents. Increased reward for risk taking combined with decreased development of the pre- frontal cortex to temper behaviours leads to more impulsive actions.
One such benefit of this neuroplasticity is that the capacity for change in the brain provides a tool for education and rehabilitation in adolescents. Teaching can and does shape the adolescent brain.
And as to whether adolesence existed centuries ago, we have only to look to Shakespeare’s words on the matter in, ‘A Winter’s Tale.’
“I would there were no age between ten and three-and-twenty, or that youth would sleep out the rest.”