How Children’s Brains Learn to Reason

Reasoning is hard cognitive work. It’s what allows you to understand that if A is greater than B and B is greater than C, then A is greater than C. It lets you fill in the blank: a link is to a chain as a ­­­­­_____ is to a bouquet. (Answer: Flower, because the relationship is part to whole.) Reasoning improves as children mature. Many kids handle such cognitive challenges with relative ease by the end of high school when they take tests like the SAT (didn’t those problems sound familiar?).  And reasoning skills are certainly required in the working world. Until recently, however, we didn’t know very much about how this essential capacity develops in a child’s brain. Neuroscientist Silvia Bunge of the University of California, Berkeley has been steadily working on that question. In a study published this week, Bunge and her colleagues showed for the first time that the wiring laid down in the brain by the time a child is six predicts the way her brain regions will communicate when she’s older and her subsequent ability to reason.

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