- Brain maturation study was initiated by the legal system that needed to ascertain if an individual can be held responsible for a crime.
- The brain matures at different rates for people and some regions of the brain maturing at faster rate even within the same individual, says Harvard psychologist.
- Studies found that some 8-year-old brains were more mature than some 25-year-old brains
Human brain maturation
is a complex and yet dynamic process that is imaged using MRI
a period of time. The legal age to vote is 18, and the law across the world defines that brain matures between the age of 10 to 20 years. However,
neuroscientists are still divided about this generalization on the maturation process of the brain.
According to a
group of scientists, different parts of the brain mature at different ages.
Psychologist Leah Somerville used recent advancements in technology to try and
define when the brain matures and the opinion is published in the Journal Neuron
. The need to define when the
maturation of the brain occurs began as a scientific pursuit but more recently the U.S legal system
has asked for further information on the the age of brain maturation to understand when an individual may be treated as an adult.
This question is of specific importance during criminal
proceedings, though the Harvard University scientist started the study with an
aim to provide an answer, the complexity of the definition made it seem futile.
This was because, different regions of the brain matured at different rates,
making it difficult to pinpoint a specific age of brain maturation.
‘As our understanding of brain maturation process improves, there could be an individual evaluation to qualify as an adult in a society and one may need to go through a procedure before they enjoy certain adult privileges in life.’
Signs of Brain Maturation
Psychologists identified the following 5 signs of aging.
Legal at 18 But Not Matured to be an Adult
- There were structural changes that
were identified between an adult brain and an adolescent brain: The amount of
grey matter was reduced while the amount of white matter was increased.
- The maturation of the brain is not associated with
specific time points: There are individual variations. Different parts of the
brain were found to mature at a different age, with some parts not maturing
even after the individual reached 30 years of age.
plasticity of the brain is dynamic: The ability of the brain to interact with
the environment, grow neurons and to add connections is dynamic. The study
found that the ability of the brain to create new interactions is not
associated with age, as in the study there were some 8-year-old brains were found to be more mature than some 25-year-old brains.
Discerning whether a
brain is mature or immature is not an easy task as there are many factors that
play a role. The only strong point is that the adolescent brain is very
different from an adult brain, however, there is no overnight transformation
that occurs which result in a mature adult brain. The legal age, fixed at 18
years, may not be the age at which the brain matures for everyone, and even if
it was for some, it would have taken a considerable period of transformation.
The scientists hope to
provide a definition for brain maturation that can be used by the legal system
to create a reliable system of determination. Identifying when an individual is
responsible for his actions will afford better convictions.
"We want to help
policymakers understand that the idea of maturity itself just can't be static.
The brain is constantly changing, but in ways that are more subtle than the
major developmental events that we think about in childhood and
adolescence," added Dr. Somerville.
Brain studies has a
lot of relevance not only to identify age of maturation but also to identify
the cause of many disorders associated with the brain like Alzheimer's
Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
. Though ADHD
is not a debilitating condition, it could affect the development of the child.
ADHD is characterized by an increase in grey matter as well as reduction in
brain size in certain portions of the brain.
Studies conducted on
children with schizophrenia showed that there was an increased reduction in
white matter, 3-4% per year when compared to 1-2% per year for healthy
The studies also found a reduction in the parietal region of the
brain which is associated with language and thinking, explaining the symptoms
associated with the condition.
conducted by The Harvard University psychologist is the first step towards
understanding the complexities of brain maturation. Though the study has been
aimed at assigning criminal proceedings against individuals who could be held
responsible for a crime, further studies could aid in identifying the causes
for diseases or to improve brain acumen.
As our understanding of brain maturation process improves, there could be an individual evaluation to qualify as an adult in a society and one may need to go through a procedure before they enjoy certain adult privileges in life.
brain maturation - (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3113697/)