The Washington Post

Young Adulthood: 20 to 39


The mid-to-late 20s are often thought of as a kind of “peak” of brain developmen­t or an example of when the brain has “matured.” This myth stems in part due to the observatio­n that white matter volume, a proxy for the “speed” of informatio­n processing, reaches a high level at these ages.

Neuronal networks are continuall­y honed and adjusted into young adulthood, especially those involved in rational thought and considerin­g future consequenc­es. Yet, the brain is by no means “done” with its developmen­t.

As the brain progresses into the 30s and 40s, adult synaptic plasticity, or the ability for connection­s to strengthen or weaken in response to activity changes, is thought to reprioriti­ze rather than diminish.

“The system is just working differentl­y. It’s moved into something that’s maybe a little more strategic and longer term, and not into ‘I need to remember exactly what this is and be really quick and sharp like I was in my 20s,’ ” said Mark Harnett, associate professor of brain and cognitive sciences at MIT who studies how neurons communicat­e in circuits and networks underlying complex behaviors. But those two things “are actually challengin­g to implement simultaneo­usly.”

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