Having an Adolescent Brain Makes Learning Easier

How adolescents brains work

Having an Adolescent Brain Makes Learning Easier

The brains of adolescents react more responsively to receiving rewards. This can lead to risky behavior, but, according to new research, it also has a positive function: it makes learning easier.

Alcohol abuse, reckless behavior and poor choice in friends–all these are inextricably linked to puberty and adolescence. In the late teens, young people test their limits, and in many cases, push beyond their limits. This is due in part to increased activity in the corpus striatum, a small area deeply hidden away inside the brain. According to previous research, that part of the brain in young people is more responsive to receiving rewards.

Teaching kidsScientists are now able to show that this increased activity in the corpus striatum does not have only negative consequences. The adolescent brain is very sensitive to feedback. That makes adolescence the ideal time to acquire and retain new information.

Over a period of five years, 736 MRI brain scans were made of a total of 300 subjects between the ages of 8 and 29. The data set is about ten times larger than that of most comparable studies. In the MRI scanner, participants had to solve a memory game. During that game, the researchers gave feedback on the participants’ performance.

The study showed that adolescents responded strongly to educational feedback. If the adolescent received useful feedback, then the corpus striatum was activated. This was not the case with less relevant feedback, for example, when the adolescent already knew the answer. The better the brain was at recognizing the difference between useful and less useful feedback, the better the performance in the learning task. Brain activation could even predict learning performance two years into the future.

It has been known for some time that adolescent brains become more ‘successful’ when they receive the same reward as small children or adults. For example, it has already been proven that the use of drugs and/or alcohol in the teenage years is linked to powerful activation in the brain’s reward system. According to researchers, it explains why adolescents and young adults go on a voyage of discovery, with all the positive and negative consequences that entails. And the same behavior can be observed in many animal species, including rats and mice.


Authored by:  Kiara Moore, PhD

Reference:  Leiden, Universiteit. (2017, December 21). Adolescent brain makes learning easier. ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/12/171221122925.htm