Our brains are constantly expanding, contracting and evolving. This action results in an ever-shifting point of view throughout our lifetime.
This Sunday on Brain Games, host Jason Silva investigates how the mind’s perspective evolves over the years. We all know that a child’s brain is extraordinarily equipped to detect and recognize faces and understand sounds in multiple languages. But the youthful brain is limited because it hasn’t yet developed what psychologists call theory of mind–that is, the ability to understand that other people have their own brains and feelings and their wants and needs may be different from yours. By adolescence, however, the brain experiences another wave of growth–but this time, with a surge of independent thought. Although tweens can get a bad rap for being selfish and self-absorbed, what’s really happening is the brain becoming hyper-vigilant in becoming self-aware and putting yourself in context into the world.
But jump ahead to the middle-aged brain, and things have settled into a different mode. Your brain is shrinking, with its weight declining at a rate of about five percent per decade after age 40. Some mental skills are already on the decline, multitasking becomes increasingly difficult, but the brain does have an edge on its more youthful version in other areas. Not only does research suggest happiness peaks in the mid-70s, but older adults make better use of high-order reasoning schemes that emphasize the need for multiple perspectives, allow for compromise, and recognize the limits of knowledge.
In light of election season, and with all of this changing and shifting in our cognitive functions over the years, that got us thinking–how does our brain’s age effect our preference at the polls? With Super Tuesday behind us and this weekend’s premiere of Life of the Brain ahead of us, we invited a neuroscience expert and a couple of popular bloggers to share their thoughts on this brainy topic. We asked our participants the following questions:
With the presidential elections fast approaching, how do you think voting is swayed by the age of our brains? Has your voting style evolved over time? Will it continue to evolve as our brains evolve?
Here’s what they had to say:
Dr. Sarah Fox, of the Brain Bank, says, “We know that every experience we have is capable of altering the structure of our brains at both a cellular and network level. Therefore, it makes sense that something as nuanced as political belief would undoubtedly be shaped and modified over the course of our lives by our experiences.” Fox continues, “Personally, my voting style altered when I came to university to study a scientific subject. Before university, I tended to base my vote on the beliefs of my parents and peers, whereas now I try to weigh up as much evidence about the candidates as I can find before making a decision.” Although she feels there is much more research to be done on this topic, Fox concludes, “It seems clear that differences do exist in the thinking style of both parties and I am inclined to believe that this may be reflected in the brain structures of strong supporters on both sides.” Read Fox’s full article on Brain Bank: The Neuroscience of Politics: What Your Brain Says About Your Vote >>
Patricia A. Patton, of PatriciaAPatton.com, reflects, “As a younger woman, I was without a doubt more open to listening to the candidate’s dream for America. I wanted to understand their vision for the world.” Patton continues, “As I have aged, I am bored by the redundancies, unmoved by whether the person looks presidential, less swayed by what they say, more interested in whether their conversation squares with how they have conducted themselves over the years.” Patton explains, “My decision to dismiss much of the campaigning leading up to who will actually become the nominee is my emotional response to the way the media and social media are covering the candidates. But how my brain is busy filtering for the kernels of truth that will allow me to make a good and/or reasonable decision had nothing to do with the age of my brain, but with experience.”
Kelly, of Kelly’s Thoughts on Things, says, “Understanding what’s going on in the world—and how we need to fix it—is more important, and making sure my kids have a better future.” She says about voting, “It has become more evolved now that I’m in my 40s, and listening to each candidate and trying to figure out who is the best one has to do with my age and style now.” Kelly believes, “As we become older, the way of thinking changes, and I believe, as I become older, my brain will evolve and do the same.”
Thank you to all of our participants for being a part of this virtual conversation. Watch Brain Games: Life of the Brain Sunday, March 6 at 9/8c on National Geographic Channel.
Can’t wait? Play this quick brain game and we’ll guess your age! All you need is a pair of ears.