Kids have fantastic brain flexibility. They absorb volumes of new material effortlessly and adapt flexibly to changing conditions.
Their brains start out with high plasticity. As they develop and amass patterns of information, their brains tend to crystallize.
The aging brain has vast stores of knowledge to draw on to solve the problems it encounters. Yet the older brain has more difficulty coping with unrecognized patterns – the surprises that drive deep learning in younger brains.
These ideas represent the top-level typical thinking among cognitive psychologists and neuroscientists about brain plasticity and crystallization. More recently, some research suggests that aging brains can be more flexible that previously believed.
In a Science News article, Laura Sanders reports on the efforts of researchers who have been exploring why brain crystallization occurs, and whether youthful brain flexibility can be induced in old brains. She also describes the associated potential costs and benefits of extreme rigidity and malleability.