Psychological neoteny

Ransom Riggs

Sounds like, well, psycho-babble, right? But it describes a unique personality trait that could become invaluable to future generations. What some of us might consider signs of immaturity -- a grandfather who loves video games, or a grown woman who never stopped playing with dolls -- is what psychology professor Bruce Charlton refers to as psychological neoteny, or "the retention of youthful attitudes and behaviors into later adulthood." It turns out that such behaviors correspond to an adaptability to change which is becoming increasingly valuable in our fast-paced new world -- and increasingly common, as well.

It's been noted again and again that people seem to reach "maturity" at 25 or 26 now -- if then -- whereas our parents, and their parents before them, grew up faster. According to Dr. Charlton, this is partially a result of post-secondary and post-graduate education, which requires that students keep an open and adaptable mind in order to succeed. "In a psychological sense, some contemporary individuals never actually become adults," he writes, which is "especially helpful in making the best out of enforced job changes, the need for geographic mobility and the requirement to make new social networks."

So to all you parents of 27-year-olds who've moved back home after college -- count your lucky stars. (Then kick the bums out!)