Recent research into how the brain develops suggests that people are better equipped to make major life decisions in their late 20s than earlier in the decade. It turns out that the brain is still evolving into its adult shape well into a our 30’s, getting rid of unused connections and strengthening those that remain. The front part of the brain, called the prefrontal cortex, is one of the last brain regions to mature. This is the area responsible for planning, prioritizing and controlling impulses.
In the August 21st edition of the Wall Street Journal, Melinda Beck quotes neuroscientist Jay Giedd as saying, "Until very recently, we had to make some pretty important life decisions about education and career paths, who to marry and whether to go into the military at a time when parts of our brains weren’t optimal yet." He thinks that the current trend for postponing those decisions makes sense biologically, and says, "It’s a good thing that the 20s are becoming a time for self-discovery."
The gap between adolescence and full adulthood is becoming wider as more young people willingly (or because of economic necessity–NOTE: Subscribers can still listen to this show) prolong their education and postpone traditional adult responsibilities. As recently as the 1960s, the average age of first marriage for women in the US was 20, and men 22. Today, the average age is 26 for women and 28 for men.
Beck quotes developmental psychologist Laurence Steinberg as saying that, by the late 20s, "there’s better communication between parts of the brain that process emotions and social information–like what people think of you–and the parts that are important for planning ahead and balancing risk and reward."
What should you do if your brain hasn’t matured yet? Steinberg says, "Things that are cognitively stimulating are important. Watching talking cats on YouTube isn’t as good for cognitive development as reading or taking classes."
In other words, GET SMART now so you’ll be EVEN SMARTER later! Beck quotes psychologist Jeffrey J. Arnett as saying, "It pays to relax and not panic because your 21-year-old or even your 26-year-old doesn’t know what he or she is going to do. Almost nobody still has that problem at 40 or 50. We all figure it out eventually."
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