When Does the Brain Reach Maturity?

When does the brain reach maturity? When is a person mature? When is he or she old enough to vote? To date? To get married? To give informed consent? To drink responsibly? Many legal questions depend on a cut and dried answer, but the answer isn’t so easy. Why? Because scientists have found that the brain reshapes itself for years after adolescence, which raises questions about when an adult really is mature in the legal sense.A recent NY Times article reports one study conducted by Harvard neuroscientist, Leah H. Somerville and another study by Laurence Steinberg, a psychologist at Temple University. Here are some highlights:

“The human brain reaches its adult volume by age 10, but the neurons continue to change for years after that.

In a child’s brain, neighboring regions tend to work together.

As adolescents age, the connections between neighboring neurons get pruned back, as new links emerge between more widely separated areas of the brain.

By adulthood, distant regions start acting in concert. Neuroscientists speculate that this long-distance harmony lets the adult brain work more efficiently and process more information.

Eventually this reshaping slows, a sign that the brain is maturing.

The reshaping happens at different rates in different parts of the brain.

The pruning in the occipital lobe, at the back of the brain, tapers off by age 20.

In the frontal lobe of the brain, new links are still forming at age 30, and beyond.

Adolescents do about as well as adults on cognition tests, but strong emotions cause their cognitive scores to plummet.”

The maturing of the brain is a complex process. The better we understand it, the better our legislative policies, psychotherapy treatments and even our inter-personal and family relationships will be. Ongoing education is the key to this greater understanding.

I’m committed to providing the highest quality education for professionals who serve families with ASD. Does that describe you? If so, please join my new meetup – Asperger Syndrome: Continuing Education for Psychotherapists. It will prove to be an invaluable resource for you!

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