Animals

Why Do Kids Learn Faster Than Adults?

You can't teach an old dog new tricks, so the saying goes. Is this why kids pick things up so faster than adults?

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Babies are born with about 100 billion brain cells, which is almost the same number humans have throughout their entire lives. New cells are added to the olfactory bulb, prefrontal cortex, cerebellum, and hippocampus, but by age two the only part of the brain that continues to grow is the hippocampus, which is associated with learning and memory. However, this only has a very small part to do with why children are capable of learning faster than adults can. The main reason isn't the number of neurons, but their organization. Newborns have very few synapses connecting neurons, but by age two or three they go through a period called Exuberant Synaptogenesis where they have more than twice as many synaptic connections than adults. The brain actually goes back and reduces the number of connections after this because a functioning adult, set in your ways, doesn't need as many. As a child becomes an adult, their brain becomes more efficient, with different parts of the brain being connected a long way apart.

Early stages of neuronal development, the brain exhibits more plasticity, and as a result children seem to absorb everything around them (language being one of the most notable examples). When a baby hears speech, the neurons in the relevant parts of its brain form more synapses. The more they hear speech, the stronger those connections become. Their vocabulary quadruples in size between the ages of one and two. Children pick up new languages without an accent because since there are multiple neural pathways, their brains don't get locked into one pronunciation pattern. After their first year though, babies lose the ability to distinguish the sounds of foreign languages. Adults who learn a language later in life will require more time and effort and are more than likely going to have an accent.

Learn More:

Child Brains Organized Differently Than Adult Brains (Live Science)
"Scientists already had some idea that children had many fewer long-distance links among brain regions than adults, but didn't know whether those connections could be seen in the function of the brain. When they looked more closely they found there were enough of these links and nodes with multiple connections to establish small-world organization."

Are children really better at foreign language learning? (The Telegraph)
"Many adult learners, in fits of frustration, will claim that adults are simply poor at languages. They say children have more porous minds, better memories, and more adaptability. I'm sorry to report, it's a myth."