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Children’s brains not fully developed until the age of 20

A new report out today by the Royal Society, suggests that the part of the brain responsible for decision-making, impulse control and cognitive control is among the slowest parts of the brain to mature and is not fully developed until around the age of 20.

Comments made in the report (Neuroscience and the Law) suggest that the age of criminal responsibility in England, Wales and Northern Ireland could be “unreasonably low” given the emerging understanding of how slowly the brains of children mature. Widespread differences between individuals also mean that the cut-off age at which children are deemed fit to stand trial, at 10 years old, might not be justifiable in all cases.

Nicolas Mackintosh, a professor at Cambridge University and chair of the Royal Society said “A number of psychologists have already shown that adolescents are not wholly responsible individuals and are inclined to take risks and behave in irresponsible ways…What neuroscience has shown in the last 10 years is that this is at least associated with the fact that the brain continues to develop throughout adolescence…Neuroscience adds to the evidence that a 10 or 12 or 15-year-old does not have a fully adult brain in many important respects.”

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