Why teenage years may be best time to learn a new skill

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London: While a person can never be old enough to learn a new skill, teenage years can make learning easier. It is because the brain reacts more responsively to receiving rewards during adolescence, finds a study.

Teenage years have been known to be inextricably linked to alcohol abuse, reckless behaviour and poor choice in friends.

This is due in part to increased activity in the corpus striatum — a small area deeply hidden away inside the brain.

However, the new study showed that this increased activity in the corpus striatum does not have only negative consequences.

“The adolescent brain is very sensitive to feedback,” said Sabine Peters, Assistant Professor at the Leiden University in the Netherlands.

“That makes adolescence the ideal time to acquire and retain new information,” Peters added.

For the study, published in Nature Communications, the team involved 300 subjects between the ages of 8 and 29 and took MRI scans of their brains, for over a period of five years.

In the MRI scanner, participants had to solve a memory game, while the researchers gave feedback on the participants’ performance.

The results showed that adolescents responded keenly to educational feedback.

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 researchers said.

“The stronger your brain recognises that difference, the better the performance in the learning task. Brain activation could even predict learning performance two years into the future,” Peters said.

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