Re-wiring the Brain
Over the last few decades, technological advances have created a wealth of opportunities for researchers to learn more about the brain. Studies conducted at the National Institute of Mental Heath have paved the way for more recent researchers to discover that the brain undergoes a “rewiring” process that does not complete until approximately the age of 25.1 This important discovery helped to increase understanding about adolescent brain development and provided support for many unexplained behaviors experienced in late adolescence and early adulthood.
Longitudinal MRI studies have revealed that a second surge of neuron growth peaks in the brain just before puberty.2 This surge is exactly like the one that occurs during infancy and consists of a thickening of the brain’s gray matter (the “thinking” material). Neurons that make up the gray matter grow and increase their ability to connect with other neurons. This research also showed that following this period of proliferation, the brain “rewires” itself over the course of adolescence, from the onset of puberty well into the 20’s, especially in the prefrontal cortex. The rewiring is accomplished by two mechanisms: neural pruning and myelination.
The complementary processes of pruning and myelination are succinctly summed up in this axiom of neuroscientists: “Neurons that fire together wire together.” Over the course of adolescence, connections between different areas and structures of the brain increase and strengthen, allowing for multi-tasking, better ability to solve problems and greater capacity to process increasingly complex information.