The Adolescent Brain Learns More Easily

Source: Leiden University

Summary: Researchers in a new study found that increased activity in the corpus striatum in adolescence benefits cognitive learning performance.

The adolescent brains react more responsively to receiving rewards. Alcohol abuse, reckless behavior and poor choice in friends – all these are inseparably linked to puberty and adolescence. Young people in their late teens, test their limits by pushing things beyond their limits. This is because of the increased activity in the corpus striatum (a small area deep inside the brain). However, researchers from Leiden University are able to show that this increased activity in the corpus striatum does not have only negative consequences, but also has a positive function – it makes learning easier. They also say that the adolescent brain is very sensitive to feedback which makes adolescence the ideal time to acquire and retain new information. The study findings were published in the journal Nature Communications.

Increased striatal activity in adolescence benefits learning

Credit: Leiden University

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. It explains why adolescents and young adults go on a voyage of discovery, with all the positive and negative consequences that entails. The research team used a large data set for their research with MRI scans. Over a period of 5years, more than 736 brain scans were made of a total of 300 subjects between the ages of 8 and 29. In the MRI scanner, participants had to solve a memory game. During that game, the researchers gave feedback on the participants’ performance. It showed that adolescents responded keenly to educational feedback. The final report suggests that enhanced striatal activity in adolescents is adaptive for learning and may point to adolescence as a unique life phase for increased feedback-learning performance.

Assoc. Prof. Sabin Peters said, “If the adolescent received useful feedback, then you saw the corpus striatum being activated. This was not the case with less pertinent feedback, for example, if the test person already knew the answer. The stronger your brain recognizes that difference, the better the performance in the learning task. Brain activation could even predict learning performance two years into the future.”

More Information: S. Peters et al, “Increased striatal activity in adolescence benefits learning”, Nature Communications(2017). DOI: 10.1038/s41467-017-02174-z

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