Emotional Maturity Doesn't Come Until Mid-Life

That area of our brains doesn't fully developed until our 40s

Ever wonder why some fully grown adults seem so juvenile? Science might have an answer for you. As it turns out, the usual adult milestones like turning 18, getting married or having kids doesn’t necessarily mean you’re all grown up. New research shows that the brain doesn’t fully mature until much later -- like sometime in our 40s. Until recently, scientists believed that the human brain stopped growing in childhood. And here I was thinking that, at 37, my body had reached its peak and had begun the inevitable downhill slide. I feel like somebody just turned my clock back by 10 years.

According to professor Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, a neuroscientist at University College London, several key areas of the brain take decades to fully develop. In particular, the emotional hub of the brain known as the prefrontal cortex continues to mature well into our 30s and even 40s. This area of the mind is involved in helping us determine between right and wrong, experience empathy, express personality and suppress inappropriate social behavior. I guess this is the closest we will ever come to explaining Tom Cruise’s couch-jumping craziness back in 2005 -- he was, after all, just 43 years old and, according to this research, still developing emotionally.

These findings may help explain why, even in our 30s and 40s, so many of us are still prone to irrational outbursts, hissy fits and other behaviors more befitting of a sulky adolescent. No wonder why people over 50 don’t make for good reality TV stars. Unless you’re David Hasselhoff or Mel Gibson. Though I don’t have any research to prove it, something tells me his prefrontal cortex is taking an extra, extra long time to reach adulthood. Or perhaps some people’s brains just never fully mature. Since I still feel pathetically ill-equipped to deal with life’s more challenging moments, I’m just glad to know that my brain is still working on it. Wondering how your emotional fitness rates? Test it now.

Does this study make you feel better or worse about the grown-up adolescents in your life? Chime in below.

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