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The adolescent brain has hidden evolutionary advantages.

Kerry Vollman/Millennium

Teenagers, oh, what are they like? They have a reputation for being difficult, reckless and self-absorbed, but of course these negative stereotypes may not be the whole story. Most other animals fledge shortly after puberty, and none, including our closest relatives, have the extended youth that we do. Why would humans have evolved this strange stage of life? A closer look at the adolescent brain reveals that it carries a hidden evolutionary advantage.

Research over the past two decades has emphasized that the cerebral cortex, a brain region central to higher processing and cognitive control, Growth continues in our early to mid-20s.. In contrast, regions that are sensitive to rewards – including an area called the ventral striatum – are firing on all cylinders in our middle age. This has reinforced the narrative that The teenage mind is noisy and unbalanced, with its overactive reward system leads to random, suboptimal decision making. Early assessments of adolescent cognitive performance seem to support this. “Sometimes teenagers do things well and other times they don’t. It was messy,” he says Evelyn Crone at Leiden University in the Netherlands. However, more recent studies have found that teenagers can be exceptionally talented – they just need the right kind of work to show their talents.

In 2022, for example, Linda Wilbrecht at the University of California, Berkeley, and colleagues presented 291 volunteers aged 8 to 30 with a computer game that…