The brain may be particularly sensitive to new memories and social stress in adolescence, a new study has found.
All brains have the ability to change in response to learning — called ‘neuroplasticity’.
However, adolescent brains show enhanced readiness in the adaptation of neural pathways and synapses.
For example, adolescents are particularly sensitive to new memories.
People remember the books, films and music they experienced between 10- and 30-years-old better than the periods before and afterwards.
Similarly, we are more likely to remember things that happened to us in this period over 35 years later.
Psychologists call this the ‘reminiscence bump’.
Social stress also seems to take a greater toll during adolescence.
Being excluded, bullied or abused at this time is more difficult for people to cope with.
This could explain why many psychological disorders tend to start in adolescence.
Ms Delia Fuhrmann, the study’s first author, said:
“Adolescents are slower to forget frightening or negative memories.
This might mean that some treatments for anxiety disorders, which are based on controlled exposure to whatever a patient is afraid of, might be less effective in adolescents and alternative treatments might be needed.”
On top of memory and social stress, adolescents are also particularly prone to taking risks.
Experimentation with drugs and alcohol tends to peak during this period as adolescents are more likely to take risky decisions.
The research doesn’t conclusively prove there is a sensitive period in adolescence, though, Ms Fuhrmann said:
“Conclusively proving that adolescent sensitive periods exist will require studies comparing children, adolescents, and adults and will need to take into account individual differences in adolescent development.
Adolescents are much more likely than children to choose their own environments and choose what they want to experience.”
Contrary to popular belief, though, the researchers found no evidence that the brain is particularly sensitive during infancy.
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2013) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
Brain image from Shutterstock