High IQ Teenagers have Longer Learning HyperDrive

Source: MindShift, Sep 2013

Both children and adults learn things, but children are better than adults at some kinds of learning. Think about trying to learn a new language.

So what is it about children that allows them to grasp the “deep” knowledge of syntax more quickly than do adults? Neuroscientists think the reason children do better at such challenges is that young brains are more receptive to learning.

“Until adolescence there are lots of new connections being made between neurons to store patterns and information collected from the environment,” Brant says.

In childhood, the brain adds many synapses in the cortex. This comes at a time when the brain is especially responsive to learning. This is typically followed by cortical pruning in adolescence, as the brain shifts from hyperlearning mode.

Hewitt agrees: “The developing brain is a much more flexible organ than the mature brain.”

Learning doesn’t stop at adolescence, of course, but the “sensitive period” — where the brain is hyperlearning mode — does appear to come to an end. Learning new things gets harder.

Brant and Hewitt find that for some children, there is an extended learning period. Among some children with very high IQs, the brain appears to stay in learning hyperdrive for an extended period.

Using mathematical techniques that allow researchers to disentangle the effects of genetic and environmental influences on individuals, Brant noticed that kids who had higher IQs to begin with seemed to have an extended period in adolescence during which they retained the ability to learn at a rapid pace, just like much younger children.

“I found that twins that had a higher IQ were showing a more childlike pattern of influence during adolescence,” Brant says.

Hewitt agrees. “It was as if there was an extended sensitive period in the higher IQ individuals. Or another way of looking at it is the sensitivity to the environment which is characteristic of earlier childhood seemed to end earlier for individuals with lower IQ.”

Hewitt and Brant don’t know why some teenagers continue to learn at the pace of much younger children. It may be that smart kids gravitate to challenging activities and this keeps them receptive to learning. Or it could be that genes that lead to high IQ also trigger an extended learning period.

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2 responses to “High IQ Teenagers have Longer Learning HyperDrive

  1. I just graduate high school and I was in the Honors and Advanced Placement classes and let me tell you, we do love the challenge. The high schools now are so geared towards ‘no child left behind’ and basically the lazy kids however that us hard workers do not get the attention we need. It is almost like there isn’t enough of a challenge! I think that when the challenge is there though then it is such a push!

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