By John Salak —
Ever wonder why kids seem to know so much, ask so many questions, and can handle certain tech-related activities with seeming ease compared to parents and older folk? Well, surprise, their brains work at a faster pace than adults, which means they might be able to handle even more challenges than they are generally given.
The technical learning difference between young and older ones apparently is found in a brain messenger known as GABA, which stabilizes newly learned material. At least this is what a multi-university research project reports.
“Our results show that children of elementary school age can learn more items within a given period of time than adults, making learning more efficient in children,” reported Takeo Watanabe of Brown University.
The researchers discovered that children have a rapid boost of GABA during visual training that lasts after training ends. No such boosts were seen in adults, whose concentrations of GABA remained constant.
Ultimately, the findings suggest that this allows children to more quickly and efficiently stabilize new learning.
“It is often assumed that children learn more efficiently than adults, although the scientific support for this assumption has, at best, been weak, and, if it is true, the neuronal mechanisms responsible for more efficient learning in children are unclear,” Watanabe said.
GABA was the obvious place for researchers to start looking for answers. They specifically wanted to examine how GABA levels changed before, during and after learning. They also wanted to determine how kids and adults differed.
Focusing on visual learning in elementary school-age children and adults, the team used behavioral and state-of-the-art neuroimaging techniques to measure differences. It found that visual learning triggered an increase of GABA in children’s visual cortex, the brain area that processes visual information. The boost even extended for several minutes after training ended.
In contrast, adults during training recorded no changes in GABA.
“In subsequent behavioral experiments, we found that children indeed stabilized new learning much more rapidly than adults, which agrees with the common belief that children outperform adults in their learning abilities,” noted Sebastian M. Frank, a faculty member at Germany’s University of Regensburg. “Our results, therefore, point to GABA as a key player in making learning efficient in children.”
The researchers added that their findings should encourage teachers and parents to give children lots of opportunities to pick up new skills, whether those skills are academic in nature or physical in nature such as riding a bike.
“Although children’s brains are not yet fully matured and many of their behavioral and cognitive functions are not as efficient as in adults, children are not, in general, outperformed in their abilities by adults,” Watanabe added. “On the contrary, children are, at least in some domains such as visual learning, superior in their abilities to adults.”