Adult and teenage brains

I recently a lot about how brains work from two different sources — a video about teenage brains, and a book called Your Brain at Work, by David Rock.

The video about teenage brains was a PBS show (I forget the title) that we watched on DVD that someone loaned me. Some things I remember:

  • The teenage brain is mostly developed except for the front part, called the prefrontal cortex, which is used for “executive functions,” which is higher processing types of functions. That part develops by something like a third in the teenage years!
  • Because it’s not fully developed, teenagers sometimes engage in impulsive, irrational behavior.
  • Synapses that aren’t used die off, so it’s important for teens to engage in a variety of different activities.
  • The circadian rhythm of teens also changes so that they have problems falling asleep at night and getting up early.
  • Loss of sleep severely impairs the ability to remember because during sleeping, it’s like the brain reviews and practices what was learned during the day.
  • Loss of sleep also affects the teen’s ability to learn new tasks — takes longer and they are slower at the task.

Another source of learning was a book I recently read:

It was a fascinating look at how our brains work and how even small ways of thinking differently can affect our productivity. A few interesting bits (though there was so much stuff I took 10 pages of notes!):

  • Our brains can’t really hold many items in our head at once… likely four max.
  • The more variables in our mind, the harder it is to make decisions. So to have easier decisions, cut down the variables.
  • Multi-tasking is accomplished by switching our attention from one thing to another. It causes mental exhaustion over time.
  • Here’s an interesting tidbit: A study at the University of London found constant emailing and texting reduces mental capacity by an average of 10 IQ points — the equivalent of missing a night’s sleep! The brain is forced to be on alert too much, which increases stress hormones.
  • Distractions happen because the brain is wired to detect novelty.
  • There is a link between emotional states and insight. Increasing happiness increases the likelihood of gaining insight.
  • The “hot buttons” we have are patterns of experience stored in our limbic systems (which track emotional relationship to thoughts, objects, peoples and events). The limbic system has tagged these as dangerous, so our danger response kicks in.
  • People like certainty because the brain likes to know what is going on by recognizing patterns in the world.
  • Feedback is rarely the right way to create real change, because feedback tends to create a strong threat for people. Deductive problem solving is better.
Well there was a ton more, but those are just a few items of interest. I find it fascinating how God created our brains to be so complex. Even after all these years of study, we are still learning more!
A Yee

Angela Yee is a professional designer (graphic design, stage design, interior design — and teaches leadership skills at

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