If babies could gloat, they would. The rest of us may have it all over them when it comes to size, strength and basic table manners, but brain power? Forget it. The brain you had at birth was the best little brain you’ll ever have. The one you’ve got now? Think of a Commodore 64—with no expansion slots.
That, at least, has been the conventional thinking, and in some ways it’s right. Our brains are wired for information absorption in babyhood and childhood, simply because we start off knowing so little. At some point, though, absorption is replaced by consolidation, as we become less able to acquire new skills but more able to make the most of what we do know. What’s always been unclear is just what that point is. When does our learning potential start to go soft? A new paper published in Psychological Science suggests that it might be later than we thought.
The study, led by cognitive neuroscientists Lisa Knoll and Delia Fuhrmann of University College London, involved a sample group of 633 subjects, divided into four age groups: young adolescents, roughly 11–13 years old; mid-adolescents, 13–16; older adolescents, 16–18; and adults, 18–33. All four groups were trained and tested in two basic skills, known as numerosity discrimination and relational reasoning. Read more