Hard wired for risk: neurological science, ‘the adolescent brain’ and developmental theory

Journal of Youth Studies (Impact Factor: 1.38). 06/2008; 11(3):347-360. DOI: 10.1080/13676260801948387

ABSTRACT This article considers claims now being made about ‘the adolescent brain’. It points out why some of those claims are problematic for methodological, social and philosophical reasons. Attention is given to how some ‘youth experts’ and others have used this research by relying on and reinforcing prejudicial stereotypes about young people as intrinsically problematic. Questions are asked about history and what that teaches us about such claims and what the implications are of uncritically accepting this latest ‘discovery’ in terms of rights and responsibilities. One response of those wedded to the adolescent brain model is to increase the age at which young people can engage in a number of activities. I argue that if we deny young people responsibility and opportunities to build a repertoire of experiences and to learn how events connect to emotions, then we are denying them the chance to develop their capacity for good judgment. The response proposed in this article rests on a different proposition that some young people are sometimes at risk not because their brains are different, but because they have not had the experience or opportunity to develop the skills and judgment that engagement in those activities and experiences supply.

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    ABSTRACT: Wilhelm Wundt's establishment of the first experimental laboratory in 1879 is often cited as a chronological marker of the emergence of psychology as a new discipline. Although Wundt vigorously supported maintenance of links with the 'social' sciences, the desire to secure a distinctive contribution to the study of human behaviour would promote psychology's allegiance to the natural science paradigm of systematic and objective measurement, and generally discourage researchers from exploring the potential benefits of a multidisciplinary perspective on developmental issues. My objective in this paper is to interrogate possible consequences of ongoing scientism within developmental psychology as it contributes to the contemporary storying of adolescence to affect not only the positioning of young people within society but also the theorising of (im)maturity across the entire lifespan. Somewhat ironically, but perhaps inevitably, this involves engagement with the conceptual legacy of Erik Erikson--one of the very few writers of influence within mainstream developmental psychology both avowedly multidisciplinary and staunchly nonempiricist. Thus I choose to problematize the enduring influence of his theorizing on adolescence, partly through utilizing his notion of 'cogwheeling of the generations'--which invites examination of how the discursive construction of adolescence may be seen as influenced by, and as having an influence on, the psychological nature of all other lifespan stages. Erikson had offered mid-twentieth century Western society a view of adolescence focused on the developmental task of 'identity achievement'. 1 He proposed the second decade of life should ideally be a moratorium or time out from 'adult' responsibilities of marriage, childbearing and economic contribution to allow the psychological exploration required to replace the 'conferred' self of childhood with a 'constructed' identity to carry forward into adulthood. Although this ideal was soon attacked as having Eurocentric, androcentric and classist limitations, 2,3 it was in many respects right for the times. James Marcia and other enthusiastic researchers would subsequently provide empirical support lacking in Erikson's own writing, and arguably succeed in gaining acceptance for identity
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    ABSTRACT: Progressive developments in scanning technologies over the last decade have led to a surge of new research into the structure and function of the brain and into differences between the brains of teenagers and other adults. This work has not been free of controversy, notably around the question of deficits in the capacity of young people concerning risk-taking behavior. In a previous article, Michael Males mounted a challenge to this body of work, arguing that it exaggerated the propensity of young people to take risks and ignored the impact of external contextual and sociological factors. In responding to Males’s article, this article not only supports his concern about deficit models of adolescence but also explores the way that the new brain science takes us beyond the century-old binary between biological determinism and social constructionism. It calls for renewed scholarly effort to develop theory and discourse that will allow us to think about young people’s responses in terms of the interaction between biology, experience and social context, and individual agency.
    Journal of Adolescent Research - J ADOLESCENT RES. 01/2010; 25(1):31-47.
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