Children can learn faster than adults, a new study shows, and one reason is thought to be that adults and children have differences in a brain messenger known as GABA that commits newly learned material to memory.
“Our results show that toddlers of primary school age can learn more things in a given amount of time than adults, which makes learning more efficient in children,” said Takeo Watanabe from Brown University in the US.
The study, published in the journal Current Biology, showed that small children show a faster increase in GABA during and after visual training. This is in contrast to GABA concentrations in adults, which remained constant. Research suggests that children’s minds respond to training in a way that allows them to retain what they have learned much more quickly and efficiently.
What makes a child learn in a shorter time than an adult?
“It is often assumed that children learn faster than adults, although scientific support for this assumption has been tenuous at best and, if true, the neural mechanisms responsible for a more efficient type of learning in children are unclear” , Watanabe said.
Differences in the level of the brain messenger GABA were the starting point of the research, according to Medical Xpress.
In the new study, the researchers set out to see how GABA levels change before, during and after learning. They also wanted to see how this process differed between children and adults.
The study examined visual learning in both primary school children and adults using state-of-the-art behavioral and neuroimaging techniques. It was found that visual learning triggered an increase in GABA in the children’s visual cortex. That increase in the brain messenger GABA persisted for several minutes after the workout ended.
What they saw in adults given the same visual training was very different. In adults, there was no change in GABA.
“In subsequent behavioral experiments, we found that children do indeed stabilize new learning much faster than adults, which is consistent with the widely held theory that children outperform adults in their learning abilities. Our results therefore indicate that GABA is a key player in enhancing learning in children,” says psychologist and cognitive neuroscientist Sebastian M. Frank of the University of Regensburg, Germany.
The research may change neuroscientists’ view of brain maturity in children
“Although children’s brains are not yet fully matured and many of their behavioral and cognitive functions are not as efficient as adults’, children are generally not outclassed in their abilities by adults. On the contrary, children are, at least in certain areas such as visual learning, superior in their abilities to adults,” added Watanabe.
The researchers say that such differences in maturation rates between brain regions and functions should be examined in more detail in future studies. They also want to explore GABA responses in other types of learning, such as reading and writing.