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Adolescent brains open to change

Scientists assess teenagers’ sensitivity to outside influences on neural wiring

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2:40pm, October 14, 2015
brain image

BRAIN POWER  The teen brain may be particularly malleable, new studies suggest. 

Under the carefully styled hair of a teenager, the brain is roiling with change. Some nerve cells are killed off, others are pruned back and still others are locked into place, a restyling that moves the brain closer to its adult form. This dramatic adolescent makeover represents a window of opportunity known as a sensitive period, allowing the brain to be selectively shaped by the outside world, new studies hint.

Such sensitive periods are common throughout the first years of life. Incoming sights, sounds and social interactions all pattern the young brain in a way that lets it detect and respond to its particular environment (SN: 8/11/12, p. 18). Within a few years, though, those windows of neural malleability close. But new research suggests that for certain kinds of input, the window may fly back open during adolescence.

Compared with the brains of children and adults, adolescent brains may be

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