BRAIN NOT FULLY DEVELOPED UNTIL AGE 25

By Kristen Rollins

Teenagers are four times as likely to be involved in a car crash and three times more likely to die in one than adults according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Recent studies have shown that these statistics may have to do with teenage brain development.

A National Institutes of Health study proposes that the part of the brain that restrains risky behavior, including reckless driving, and thinking skills is not fully developed until the age of 25.

Jay Giedd, the psychiatrist leading the study, told MSNBC earlier this year that this finding came as a surprise to him because he used to think that the brain was fully developed by the age of 18.

The continuous study uses magnetic resonance imaging to scan 2,000 people’s brains every two years. It has been found that teenage brains have extra synapses in the areas where decision making and risk assessment take place. Most of these synapses are useless and even get in the way of one’s judgment. Eventually, as teenagers become adults the synapses disappear, but the findings imply that many life choices are made before the brain’s decision making center is fully developed.

Laura Caporusso, a nurse at Yale University Hospital, said that her department sees a large number of teenage driving accidents. If brain development is the cause of these accidents, Caporusso said she is uncertain due to Yale’s close proximity to the universities in the area.

“The brain is a really hard thing. You can never really know,” she said. “We get kids who come in that are supposed to be brain dead, and they leave walking and talking.”

Giedd and his team of researchers are also looking into different influences that cause the child brain to develop the way it does. These influences range from parenting and schooling to nutrition. Because many changes in the brain take place during the teenage years, different interactions teenagers experience may have an affect on their brain structure in the future.

Karen Comstock, is psychology professor at Marist College, and has researched the brain and brain development.

“Research on brain development helps us to understand ourselves and others. Our world and human behavior is extremely complex,” Comstock said. “To fully understand what goes on with the brain may not be the ultimate goal, if that were even possible. The quest may be in the effort we put into trying to understand ourselves and others.”

Comstock also said she has experienced her own children’s developmental stages.

“My children who are now 21 and 25, definitely needed help with the thinking through process. There were times during their adolescence when they found the things I tried to teach them difficult to understand,” she said. “However, they were eventually able to grasp the concept six months or even a year or more later. So it appears that their development caught up with my teachings.