The Role of Experience
The processes of neuron proliferation and pruning occurring in the adolescent years result in a brain that is very “plastic,” meaning nimble and adaptable in the face of challenges posed in the environment and highly subject to molding by experience. The “use it or lose it” principle applies here because the survival of a neural connection, synapse or circuit depends on how often it is activated.1 Experience and use the circuits of the brain are shaped through practice. This is how the brain consolidates learning. This implies that to some extent adolescents can influence the wiring of their own brains by the activities they engage in, the experiences they seek and the things they spend their time doing. Adolescent brain plasticity offers an abundant opportunity to develop talents and life-long interests, like playing a musical instrument, film production, or leading community service projects. Conversely, trauma, chronic stress, substance use, and even sedentary activities such as watching television or playing video games may have greater negative effects when experienced during this sensitive period of brain development.