Scientific Studies Explain Why Children Learn Faster than Adults
Riding a bike, learning a language, learning how to use technological instruments or devices. These are all situations where children learn faster and easier than adults. Surely, you’ve heard the phrase that says that children are like sponges, as they absorb the information and stimuli that surround them.
However, until now, it wasn’t entirely clear why children have an easier time acquiring new learning compared to adults. However, a neurotransmitter called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is responsible for providing an answer to this question.
GABA is an amino acid that’s part of the central nervous system. It acts as one of the main neurotransmitters that perform specific inhibitory functions in the transmission of nerve impulses. In other words, its function is to reduce neuronal activation in the brain. This chemical substance provides us with numerous benefits. It’s also known as a neurotransmitter that reduces stress and anxiety.
Conversely, the lower the levels of this neurotransmitter, the higher the brain activation.
How it was discovered
In 2011, British neurophysiologist Charlotte Stagg discovered that GABA modification plays an important role in motor cortical plasticity. In this study, participants were asked to learn a finger movement sequence while the research team scanned their brains via functional magnetic resonance imaging.
The results showed that when GABA concentration is lower, there’s greater activity in the motor cortex during learning. In contrast, when levels are high, brain activation is lower and reactions are slower.
Why do children learn faster?
Many families decide to introduce their children to non-native languages, sports, or artistic disciplines at an earlier age. What they seek is to make the most of their young brains, as they’re aware of the complexities involved in adult learning.
A study in children and adults
To continue with the scientific evidence, we’ll highlight recent research published in the journal Current Biology. This study analyzed the variation of GABA levels before, during, and after a group of children between 8 and 11 years old and another group of people between 18 and 35 years old performed a visual learning task. Therefore, they’ve come up with a very interesting finding: Inhibitory processing in children’s brains is more dynamic and adapts more quickly to stabilize learning than in adults.
In the youngest participants, the presence of this amino acid was maintained minutes after the activity had ended, which prevented new stimuli from interfering with the memory they had just generated. This point is essential for efficient learning, as it facilitates the conversion of vague knowledge to more robust and consolidated knowledge.
Childhood learning, adult admiration
The fact that children learn faster is a reality that amazes and inspires admiration in adults. For example, we find it amazing that our children are able to operate technological devices at the speed they do, while we need a few weeks to use a new platform or device without feeling like a fish out of water.
The same is often true for sports, instruments, foreign languages, and even math or literacy. At some time in your life, you’ve probably experienced regret for not having studied a language or attended piano lessons when you were a child. You probably think it would have been much easier back then. In any case, you should keep in mind that learning is feasible at any stage of life, although with a particular rhythm and development.