This paper discusses the development of the human social brain. First, I will argue that social cognition is uniquely important and describe evidence that social interaction plays a critical role in early brain development. I will then discuss recent research demonstrating that the social brain undergoes protracted development and that adolescence in particular represents a period of reorganization of the social brain. Finally, I will attempt to draw out potential implications of this new research for education policy and for human wellbeing.
The idea that teenagers should still go to school and be educated is relatively new. And yet the research on brain development suggests that education during the teenage years is vital. The brain is still developing during this period, is adaptable, and needs to be molded and shaped. Perhaps the aims of education for adolescents might change to include abilities that are controlled by the parts of the brain that undergo most change during adolescence. These abilities include internal control, multitasking, and planning—but also self-awareness and social cognitive skills such as the perspective-taking and the understanding of social emotions. Finally, it might be fruitful to include in the curriculum some teaching on the changes occurring in the brain during adolescence. Adolescents might be interested in, and could benefit from, learning about the changes that are going on in their own brains.