Does life sometimes seem like a high school cafeteria? It’s not your imagination. Our brain is designed to wire itself in adolescence. Our emotional brain is inherited from earlier mammals who struggled for status in their herd or pack. As a result, the status struggles of adolescence form the core of our emotional brain.
Mammals compete for status in a herd or pack because it promotes reproductive success. There is no free love in nature. Sex has preliminary qualifying events in every species, and animals spend years perfecting their skills. The traits linked to “popularity” in high school are eerily similar to the traits that promote reproductive success in earlier mammals: physical strength, attractiveness to the opposite sex, social alliances, and a willingness to take risks.
Natural selection produced a brain that cares about these traits because that promotes survival.
Adolescents seek status without the polite veneer of adulthood. The mammalian struggle of high school gets wired into your brain because hormones stimulate the growth of neurons. Your teen years built the neural network of how the world works. You might want to distance from your teen self, but the neural pathways you built then are real. Permanent neural circuits build in adolescence for a good reason.