I have read everywhere that the prefrontal cortex is not fully developed until about the mid twenties, but everyone's brain develops differently. Is it possible for a teens prefrontal cortex to be significantly more developed than it should be at this age?


In the last 20 years or so, a growing amount of neuroimaging research has demonstrated that adolescence is a period of continued brain growth and change, challenging longstanding assumptions that the brain was largely finished maturing by puberty (Giedd, et al. 1999; Sowell, et al. 1999; Sowell, et al. 2001; Johnson, et al. 2009).

Several major morphological and functional changes occur in the human brain during adolescence (Giedd, et al. 1999), and the maturation of the adolescent brain is influenced by (among other things) heredity, environment, nutritional status, sleep patterns, and sex hormones (estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone), which play a crucial role in myelination (Arain, et al. 2013). Full development and maturation of the prefrontal cortex is generally believed to occur at roughly 25 years old, however, Sowell, et al. (2003) found a subtle increase in grey matter density until age 30, which remained stable until a steep decline in later decades.

A detailed study is required in order to determine the exact biomarkers involved, as well as the intricate influence of diet, drugs, sex, and sleep on the maturation of the adolescent brain as discussed briefly in this report (Arain, et al. 2013).

Despite the fact that brain development may be done by our 30s, it doesn’t mean that someone with a fully developed brain cannot change it. There is considerable evidence to suggest that we can still change our own brains with a process called neuroplasticity. Our brains are constantly adapting to our environment, experiences, and other inputs to which it is exposed.


Arain, M., Haque, M., Johal, L., Mathur, P., Nel, W., Rais, A., ... & Sharma, S. (2013). Maturation of the adolescent brain. Neuropsychiatric disease and treatment, 9, 449.
DOI: 10.2147/NDT.S39776 PMCID: PMC3621648 PMID: 23579318
PDF: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3621648/pdf/ndt-9-449.pdf

Giedd, J. N., Blumenthal, J., Jeffries, N. O., Castellanos, F. X., Liu, H., Zijdenbos, A., ... & Rapoport, J. L. (1999). Brain development during childhood and adolescence: a longitudinal MRI study. Nature neuroscience, 2(10), 861.
DOI: 10.1038/13158 PMID: 10491603
PDF: https://web.stanford.edu/class/cs379c/archive/2013/suggested_reading_list/supplements/documents/GieddetalNN-99.pdf

Johnson, S. B., Blum, R. W., & Giedd, J. N. (2009). Adolescent maturity and the brain: the promise and pitfalls of neuroscience research in adolescent health policy. Journal of Adolescent Health, 45(3), 216-221.
DOI: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2009.05.016 PMCID: PMC2892678 PMID: 19699416
PDF: https://www.jahonline.org/article/S1054-139X(09)00251-1/pdf

Sowell, E. R., Thompson, P. M., Holmes, C. J., Jernigan, T. L., & Toga, A. W. (1999). In vivo evidence for post-adolescent brain maturation in frontal and striatal regions. Nature neuroscience, 2(10), 859.
DOI: 10.1038/13154 PMID: 10491602
PDF: https://cloudfront.escholarship.org/dist/prd/content/qt1d34r7w2/qt1d34r7w2.pdf

Sowell, E. R., Thompson, P. M., Tessner, K. D., & Toga, A. W. (2001). Mapping continued brain growth and gray matter density reduction in dorsal frontal cortex: Inverse relationships during postadolescent brain maturation. Journal of Neuroscience, 21(22), 8819-8829.
DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.21-22-08819.2001 PMID: 11698594 PDF: http://www.jneurosci.org/content/jneuro/21/22/8819.full.pdf

Sowell, E. R., Peterson, B. S., Thompson, P. M., Welcome, S. E., Henkenius, A. L., & Toga, A. W. (2003). Mapping cortical change across the human life span. Nature neuroscience, 6(3), 309-315.
DOI: 10.1038/nn1008 PDF: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Paul_Thompson13/publication/10933611_Mapping_cortical_change_across_the_lifespan/links/564f004408aeafc2aab33ed0.pdf

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    $\begingroup$ Nice overview of the subject but the OP is asking about the variation in prefrontal cortex development, which this answer does not address. $\endgroup$
    – vkehayas
    Jun 4 '18 at 5:10
  • $\begingroup$ @vkehayas - The question was asking if it is possible for the prefrontal cortex to be fully developed before the 20s. My answer covers what I have found in research papers (generally around 25 but can be 30). If you know of anything different you are free to add another answer covering anything I missed $\endgroup$ Jun 4 '18 at 6:21
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    $\begingroup$ As @vkehayas points out, variation across studies is not the same as variation across individuals - variations across studies are likely due to methodological differences. They are not the same question. $\endgroup$
    – Bryan Krause
    Jun 4 '18 at 16:17

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