Friday, December 15, 2006

Psychological Neoteny

An interesting idea in the NYTimes Ideas issue from Bruce Charlton, a doctor and psychology professor at Newcastle University in Britain. What looks like immaturity — or in Charlton’s kinder terms, the “retention of youthful attitudes and behaviors into later adulthood” — is actually a valuable developmental characteristic, which he calls psychological neoteny. "So, the next time you see a mother of three head-banging to death metal or a 50-year-old man sporting a faux-hawk, don’t laugh...In a recent issue of Medical Hypotheses, a journal he edits, Charlton argues that unlike previous, more settled societies that could afford to honor a narrow and well-defined worldview (that is, a “mature” one), modern life is tumultuous and ever-changing. Accordingly, it rewards those who retain a certain plasticity of mind and personality. In a psychological sense, some contemporary individuals never actually become adults."


  1. Anonymous4:10 AM

    Charlton's ideas seem to be supported by the increasing numbers of adults still living with their parents--and the large number of "overeducated" perpetual students and graduate students who refuse to get a job and get married.

    The problem I have with the concept of psychological neoteny, is that the phenomenon is supposed to reflect increasing flexibility to a changing world. In my experience, the neotenous adults of today seem particularly brittle.

  2. Anonymous9:24 PM

    I agree fully that the so called
    "neotenous adults" seem, on the whole, to simply be avoiding maturity, commitment, depth.
    The youth culture generates illogical tendencies to refute tenure, experience and worldliness, and these tendencies carry over into adluthood.

  3. Anonymous1:00 PM

    Psychological neoteny is only the beginning. Consider the societal implications of individual neoteny blossoming into a culture. Visit for details.

  4. For an animation of what neoteny looks like (psychological and evolutionary) visit

  5. Sandie5:00 PM

    My husband Dave, a musician, and I, an artist, call ourselves Neotniks. I'm 58; he's 59. We work in medical records at a local hospital, have no children, and are always excited to learn new things and try out new ideas.

    "Anonymous", you're wrong when you claim Neotniks avoid or lack maturity, commitment and depth. What we lack is dross. We keep the aspects of maturity, commitment and depth that are useful, and discard the ones we don't need or want.

    To us, helping others, learning new things, inventing new ideas, and appreciating what we have--these things are what maturity, commitment and depth are about. Breeding mini-Me's, amassing property, and getting hidebound are the aspects of "maturity" we find we can do quite happily without.

    Neotniks, unite! You have nothing to lose but your barnacles!

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  7. s our society presently in the process of dramatic change? Are we evolving as individuals? Becoming more complex in response to a more complex environment? What could be a more dramatic environmental change than subjecting children to years of intensive education? Spending a lifetime dealing with symbols in books and other abstract information? Could neoteny be an aspect of evolution? Might more complex organisms require more time to develop? Would there be any way to detect a gradual, subtle prolongiation of infancy? Could the organizing intelligence inate to Nature be as falible and tentative as our own creative intelligence, producing occasional incomplete innovations?

  8. Psychological neoteny is really advantageous. Because we have longer lives living in a multitasking society, we have to endure more stressful experiences than ever. For us to unwind, being playful and curious helps us to be creative in solving problems; hence, innovation in society.
    After all, being a late bloomer and childlike may be better than the early bloomer.