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Adolescent Brain and Risk Taking

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Peter Baggetta

on 16 September 2014

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Transcript of Adolescent Brain and Risk Taking

No: Michael Males
Yes: Laurence Steinberg
There has been much study of adolescent risk taking, but no satisfactory explanation until recent advances in brain science

Adolescents are able to engage in mature logical reasoning, but their psychosocial capacities often remain immature
Puberty seems to accelerate socioemotional networks associated with risk taking, overwhelming cognitive controls - particularly in group contexts
Increases in risk taking are closely associated with the biological changes of puberty regardless of chronological age

Educational interventions to minimize adolescent risk taking have been largely ineffective, suggesting it is not about rational thinking
Claims of adolescent risk taking are regularly exaggerated, often in service of other social or political agendas

Focusing on the adolescent brain as the cause of risk taking is a type of "biodeterminism" that oversimplifies complicated issues

Brain science is still not advanced enough to really make clear links between biology and behavior
Teenagers have lower rates of risk compared to adults for suicide, drug overdoses, and accidents - yet those statistics are often ignored when making claims about adolescent risk
Researchers such as Steinberg fail to control for the most important cause of risk taking: socioeconomic differences predict risk taking better than age
One of the most common stereotypes of adolescents is that they are prone to take risks without adequately accounting for consequences

The idea of adolescence as a tumultuous period - "storm and strain" has long been a controversial issue for developmental research

Advances in technology and brain science seem to have only perpetuated debates about the nature of adolescent behavior

Both genetics and social experiences activate the brain and brain activity is both a cause and effect of behavior
Answer one of the following questions along with the last question:

1. Is the debate about the adolescent brain just another version of the old debate about whether teens are at the mercy of "raging hormones?"

2. Steinberg focuses on age differences in risk taking, where Males focuses on socioeconomic differences; what are the relative advantages for understanding development of each approach?

3. What qualifies as "risk taking" in adolescence and qualifies as simply learning, growth and experiencing life?

4. Do you agree that researchers often manipulate categories of risk taking to suggest adolescents take more risks? If so, why do you think researchers do this?

5. What are the important public policies that might change depending on how we come to understand adolescent risk taking?

For All Groups: Does your group agree with Steinberg or Males? Why?
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