There’s a whole lot of science and research about how our brains are changing, and how we’re developing the skills that we need to get ahead.
But what are the ages of the brains of kids today?
And what are their differences?
Dr Chris Woodford from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Melbourne, Australia, wants to find out.
Dr Woodford was looking for brain tissue from around the world when he began research.
“It was very interesting to look at the brain tissue of people who were under age 3, and what the brain development was like in those kids,” he says.
“That’s the age when the brain begins to get really big and dense.”
He says the brain has to grow, so it can’t simply be “in the bag” like a lot of other brains.
It has to be active and capable of thinking, learning, feeling, and performing.
That means the brain can change during development, so the age at which it matures can be used as a proxy for the age a person is likely to be at their peak.
Brain-scanning studies using MRI have revealed that children are about five times more likely to develop brain abnormalities than adults.
The age at where a child starts to show brain changes is known as the developmental window, and it is now about five to 10 years.
For most kids, the window is between five and seven.
Dr Woodsford says children’s brains get bigger at about the age they hit five.
This is when their bodies begin to adapt to their new surroundings.
“The bigger and denser the brain is, the more rapidly it changes in terms of the number of cells, the neurons, the connections, the synapses, the neural pathways, and so on,” he explains.
“And in the case of young children, the brain gets very dense and very small and it starts to grow a lot more.”
This growth in size has a big impact on learning and memory.
“Children will tend to make very complex and accurate choices,” Dr Woodfield says.
But as they get older, these connections and the way they learn about new things will also change.
“If you look at people’s brains at the age where they start to have a more sophisticated understanding of the world, they are at a much higher developmental window,” he notes.
“So they have to be much more sophisticated in their thinking and they’re not just going to be able to read a book at the same age as you are.”
Dr Woodfall says the age for the brain to mature is important because this is when the mind can “see beyond the world”.
But that’s not always the case.
“As children develop and their brain develops, they can also experience the world differently and experience that more in the world than adults do,” he points out.
“They can see things in different ways.”
This means they can see more emotions in the emotions they experience and more in their relationships with others.
“When you look more deeply into it, children are often much better at learning from others, for example,” Dr Woodsfield says, referring to the way kids develop their emotional intelligence.
“In the case where children develop their emotions as well, they’re better at understanding how to manage the emotions of others, so they can better deal with them.”
Dr Woodsfoor’s research shows the age between five to seven is the developmental windows for brain development in young children.
It’s also the age in which the brain becomes the most efficient at storing new information and is able to keep it “frozen” at the moment of a change.
So the age that kids reach when they reach their peak performance in learning and social skills is not necessarily the age the brain will be able keep those skills active for the rest of their lives.
“I don’t think that kids who reach the age seven are at peak performance,” Dr Woodwardford says.
He also says there is evidence that young children are less capable of learning to understand complex ideas and ideas that are hard for adults to comprehend.
“For example, it’s hard to understand a word like the word ‘fool’ when you are six, but if you are five or seven you’re much better able to learn that word,” Dr Wright says.
What’s in a child?
A child’s brain is a mix of many different cells and different tissues, but the most important is the brain stem, which is where the neural connections between different parts of the brain are.
This tissue can grow and change as the brain matures.
Dr Wright and his colleagues have used MRI to track how the growth of the developing brain differs between children and adults.
“What we found is that there is a significant difference in the size of the neural network that’s going to develop in children versus adults,” Dr Jones says.
When it comes to learning, brain-scan studies have shown that children have much greater differences in the length of their brain growth between the ages they are able to “learn”