How Synaptic Pruning messes with our future happiness

Like the pirates of olden days, give them a bottle of rum and any Middle Years school teacher will be happy to regale you with the adventures and bat-shit insanity they witness on a daily basis as part of their vocation.

Flipped over tables; the formerly quiet kid who has turned to loud questioning of school/society/teacher’s haircut; the year 8 girl who took the time to carefully cut out the letters in foil to decorate her History folder with the shiny phrase “lick my ass”; the amputee girl who decided to throw her prosthetic leg across the classroom at another student for some reason.*

So those who are are forced to be around adolescents as part of their parenting obligations, or worse, as part of their jobs, often find them themselves in front of an erupting volcano spitting out exploding lava bombs of moronic shit. So we turn to booze, but also science! The latter tells us that the fecal eruption we’re witnessing is most likely attributed to a physical process within their feeble brains called “synaptic pruning” (Lubman, 2007) (Blakemore and Choudhry, 2006).

Mostly occurring between the ages of 10 to fourteen years, this is a difficult stage for adolescents that includes changes of “self-concept”, accompanied by stress, negative behaviour in the classroom, risk-taking, self-esteem issues and “distressed peer interaction” (which explains the aforementioned flying leg) (Eccles, 1996).

During this process, some logical areas of the brain, through lesser use, are marked for deletion and are therefore pruned. While other, perhaps not-so developed bits, which are being called upon more and more often (for example, the chunks responsible for social interaction and emotional control) are undergoing a process of reinforcement and strengthening. So it’s basically “use it, or forever lose it”.

The thing is, the effects of this synaptic pruning are long-lasting, if not permanent. So it can foreseeably lead to some interesting outcomes. Outcomes that those older and wiser than me have witnessed when catching up with former students in their adult lives.

For example, a student might love to do sketch drawings, listen to old music or write stories (not necessarily speaking from personal experience here). But then in adolescence, coerced by their morphing brains and depending on their need to feel popular (which will likely depend on behaviours modelled by family and mentors) , they might decide to abandon their nerdy hobbies and take on more risky but socially-rewarding activities like tagging on freeway overpasses, listening to dubstep and train surfing.

Ironically, by striving for short-term social success, they’re giving up on the kind of skills that will get them laid by more beautiful people during their punk or bohemian 20s. While those at the top of the high school social hierarchy, (the queen bee, prom queen, sporting jock or bad-boy type), whose post-synaptic-ly pruned brains have been streamlined for the kind of mental processing that keeps you at the top of the teenage social pyramid, might forever stay stuck in this adolescent state of high school glory. They may forever lack the basic abilities to empathise with others and not spit on the a floor during job interviews.

This leads to the saying that I’ve often heard muttered by teachers to their students, who at the bottom of the high school popularity hierarchy, might be experiencing the worst that high school has to offer. “Good high school, shit life; Shit high school, good life”.

* all true stories

Author: intNerdThings

Writer of iNT.

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