The Average Adult Brain Not Fully Developed Until 25+
The day I turned 18 was the day everyone told me “Congrats! You’re officially an adult.” While that may have been the case legally, mentally I was far from feeling like one. And while I still do not feel like one most of the time, I am much more mature than I was back then. All of this got me thinking, at what age does our brain fully mature?
This is a widely debated question. In the past, experts believed that our brains stopped growing in our mid to late teens. However, evidence proved otherwise. The next theory was that our brains did not develop until at least age 20. Nowadays, the age of full maturity has been shown to be even older.
Most neuroscientists now agree that brain development persists until at least our mid-20s. In fact, some adults don’t fully mature until the early 30s! Young adults who are 18 may make riskier decisions than those who are in their mid-20s due to lack of experience. All these risky decisions have the ability to impact the developing brain.
So at what age is the brain fully developed?
As mentioned below, the age the brain develops varies from person to person. For some, brain development may be complete before age 25 while for others, it may end after 25. The average age is now considered “25.” For the most part, the brain has developed the most by 25 for the average person.
Changes occur during the ages of 18 to 25 specifically in an area of the brain known as the “prefrontal cortex.” At 18, most of us are only at the halfway point of development for this area! The prefrontal cortex is responsible for impulsive decisions and planning behaviors. The brain system tends to reach a higher level of activation during puberty and settles back to normal at roughly 25 years old. Adults over 25 seem to feel less sensitive to peer pressure and have an easier time handling challenges that come their way.
From the early stages of adolescence into adulthood, the brain undergoes a major growth spurt. The initial developments begin near the back of the cortex and tend to finish in the frontal areas (e.g. prefrontal cortex).
The prefrontal cortex is the finishing piece of maturity. This area of the brain develops at least until our mid-20s. This is important to understand because the prefrontal cortex plays a huge role in our decisions. The whole “young, reckless and invincible” reputation young people get is there for a reason. While our brains cannot be blamed completely, it plays a significant role.
Functions of the Prefrontal Cortex
Now that you know how important the prefrontal cortex is, you should also know all of the functions. The prefrontal cortex plays a role in so many aspects of our functionality as we enter adulthood.
Here are some of the most important functions:
- Attention: The ability to ignore distractions is a function of our prefrontal cortex. Those with attention deficit issues like ADHD may have abnormalities in this region. Also, those who abused drugs in their younger years may end up with attention problems as the brain forms.
- Complex planning: Have trouble planning stuff? You can blame some of that on your prefrontal cortex. Setting goals require some degree of planning and this region of the brain is responsible for managing these goals. An underdeveloped prefrontal region means you’re planning skills have not been established.
- Decision making: Made some bad decisions as a youngin? Most of us have. Luckily, as we enter our 20s, our decision-making skills begin to improve. Our prefrontal cortex develops and helps us think more logically. Our brain weighs the risks of our decisions and tells us whether a behavior is a good idea vs. a bad one.
- Impulse control: The ability to control your impulses is related to the prefrontal cortex. Your self-discipline and ability to manage your impulsive behaviors do not regulate until your mid-20s. If you struggle with impulsivity, it will get better with age.
- Logical thinking: Are you making decisions based on logic or based on emotions? As your prefrontal cortex develops, rational thinking simultaneously improves. That means you’ll become better at rationalizing and making smarter choices.
- Personality development: When you are young, fitting in is the most important part of life. That is partially to do with your prefrontal cortex. Our personalities are still developing at this point, so when we are young, we often struggle with identity issues and developing a favorable personality.
- Short-term memory: The maturity of your prefrontal cortex influences your short-term memory. When this area is growing, you may struggle to remember As the brain matures, your memorization capacity will improve.
What Disrupts Development of the Prefrontal Cortex? (Hint: drugs)
While the age of full development of the prefrontal cortex is supposed to hover around 25 and 30, there are outside factors that can severely disrupt this process. Some people are resilient to these outside factors because of genetics. However, many people have disrupted the development of their brain due to a variety of lifestyle choices and scenarios.
5 Major Disruptions to Prefrontal Cortex Development:
- Alcohol abuse: Heavy drinking had a negative impact on the developing brain. Abusing alcohol during this stage of development can disrupt the formation of the prefrontal cortex. That is why in the US, drinking was restricted to 21 years old.
- Chronic stress: Excessive stress disrupts the structure of the developing brain. High stress inhibits the brain from learning to manage stress in the future.
- Drug abuse: In the critical years of brain development, drugs have the potential to alter our brain development. This can lead to poorer cognition later. Unfortunately, it is during this time; substance abuse is prevalent among youth.
- Poor diet: Junk food is especially harmful while your brain is developing because diet plays a huge role in brain function. Not getting enough nutrients day today can influence our vulnerability to disease and mental illness.
- Sleep problems: Insomnia may be a cool word to say, but it is not a healthy condition to have especially when your brain is still developing. Sleep helps reduce stress, and our bodies do the most developing while we are asleep. Struggling with sleep can inhibit optimal brain development.
Despite the fact that brain development may be done by our 30s, it does not mean someone with a fully developed brain cannot change it. We can still change our brains at any age with a process called “neuroplasticity.” Our brains are constantly adapting to new environments, experiences, and other inputs.
If you did destructive things in your youth that may have had an impact on your brain, it is important to be aware of it. There may be mental health issues you need to address in recovery. Furthermore, understanding how your brain works can help give you hope. The brain is always changing, even after hitting full maturity. It is never too late to change your behavior. Call today.
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