Are you deep into your twenties and still feel like a bit of an imposter? You aren’t alone. Few people celebrate their 18th birthday and immediately consider themselves proficient in the art of ‘adulting’, and now there is legitimate science to back this up.
According to brain scientists who have extensively studied the nervous system, people don’t necessarily become fully “adult” until they’re in their 30s.
These researchers found that the age at which you become an adult varies for everyone, suggesting that people aged 18 are still going through changes in the brain which can affect behaviour and make them more likely to develop mental health disorders.
Professor Peter Jones, from Cambridge University, said: “What we’re really saying is that to have a definition of when you move from childhood to adulthood looks increasingly absurd. It’s a much more nuanced transition that takes place over three decades.”
He added: “I guess systems like the education system, the health system and the legal system make it convenient for themselves by having definitions.”
When you reach 18 in Australia, you can vote, buy alcohol, get a mortgage and are also treated as an adult if you get in trouble with the police. Despite this, Professor Jones says he believes experienced criminal judges recognise the difference between a 19-year-old defendant and a “hardened criminal” in their late 30s.
“I think the system is adapting to what’s hiding in plain sight, that people don’t like (the idea of) a caterpillar turning into a butterfly,” he said. “There isn’t a childhood and then an adulthood. People are on a pathway, they’re on a trajectory.”
Prof Jones is one of a number of experts who are taking part in a neuroscience meeting hosted by the Academy of Medical Sciences in Oxford.