It turns out there’s a reason why you will always love the music you listened to as a 16-year-old, and why you might still feel the pain of rejection from a particularly nasty high school memory. These days, more developmental neuroscientists and psychologists are examining the lingering effects of adolescence on our development, finding that high school experiences may be more influential on our future adults selves than had been thought, New York Magazine reports.
What’s happening is that “just before adolescence, the prefrontal cortex — the part of the brain that governs our ability to reason, grasp abstractions, control impulses and self-reflect — undergoes a huge flurry of activity, giving young adults the intellectual capacity to form an identity, to develop the notion of a self,” the magazine reports. At the same time, up until our mid-20s, the prefrontal cortex is still improving neural connections, “and until those connections are consolidated … the more primitive, emotional parts of the brain have a more significant influence.”
Moreover, as this is happening, we’re sending kids into an environment that’s relatively empty of adults, without an established hierarchy. So teenagers produce their own basic power systems, with those on top landing there often because of their looks, nice clothes or athleticism, “rather than subtleties of personality.”
And, the magazine reports, the way many of us learned to cope with the shame, self-consciousness or isolation — feelings so prevalent in middle and high school — become strategies we use for life, such as by hiding, people-pleasing, or by using shame and aggression to fight shame and aggression.