Thursday, November 03, 2005

Why teens do what they do

Mom and Brian can probably speak about this much better than I can, but today at work I saw a very interesting presentation called "Why Kids Are Different: Understanding New Developments in Brain Science and Using Them to Argue for Better Outcomes for Youth." Dr. Abigail Baird of Dartmouth University spoke about her research on adolescent brains.

In one experiment, she asked adults and adolescents whether something was a good idea or a bad idea. The examples she used were, "Lighting your hair on fire," "Swimming with sharks," "Eating a light bulb." It took adolescents slightly longer to decide something was a bad idea. More significantly, the parts of the brains in use when making these decisions were different in adolescents than they were in adults.

Dr. Baird determined that adults are able to imagine images or sensations while adolescents are not. Instead, adolescents have to spend a longer time using their reasoning skills to decide if something is a bad idea. Also, because adolescents have fewer experiences than adults, they have fewer experiences to draw on when making decisions (the amygdala, responsible for "fight or flight," sends out fewer images).

Legal Professor Steven Drizin of Northwestern University explained how he and others are using this information in juvenile justice. He advocates that adolescents should be tried as children rather than adults and that adolescents should have different rights during interrogation than adults. Because adolescents' prefrontal lobes are not fully developed, they do not have the same inhibitors that adults do. Their amygdala (responsible for fight or flight) is utilized more and they are more likely to act irrationally (such as admitting to crimes they did not commit) so as to avoid potentially more damaging situations.

I apologize to both Dr. Baird and Professor Drizin for my poor explanation of their fascinating presentations. Their research and work is really important to a more just and safe world.

If you are interested in learning more, Dr. Baird has a website you can check out:

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