Friday, August 28, 2009

Are reckless teens more mature than their conservative counterparts?

From Scientific American:

Thrill seeking and poor judgment go hand in hand when it comes to teenagers—an inevitable part of human development determined by properties of a growing but immature brain. Right? Not so fast. A study being published tomorrow turns that thinking upside down: The brains of teens who behave dangerously are more like adult brains than are those of their more cautious peers.

Psychologists have long believed that the brain's judgment-control systems develop more slowly than emotion-governing systems, not maturing until people are in their mid-20s. Hence, teens end up taking far more risks than adults do. Evidence supporting this idea comes from studies looking at functional and structural properties of gray matter, the important part of the brain that contains the neurons that relay brain signals.

At least two observations undermine this theory, however. First, American-style teen turmoil is absent in more than 100 cultures around the world, suggesting that such mayhem is not biologically inevitable. Second, the brain itself changes in response to experiences, raising the question of whether adolescent brain characteristics are the cause of teen tumult or rather the result of lifestyle and experiences. Because brain research is virtually always correlational in design, determining whether brain properties are causes or effects is impossible.

Now neuroscientists Gregory S. Berns, Sara Moore and Monica Capra of Emory University suggest that teen risk-taking is associated not with an immature brain but with a mature, adultlike brain—exactly the opposite of conventional wisdom.

More here

My interpretation:

I was quite shocked with these results. I always thought that the conservative teens were more mature because they could control their temptations. However, this article got me thinking.

In a population of teenagers, there will always be a small percentage of teens who are more mature and ahead of their time. This could probably be due to their living environment or even their genetics.

Generally, the teens that are more mature have a much greater capacity to grow compared to average teens. However, that capacity needs to be filled up with a lot more substance compared to average teens. Thus, in order to fill up their large capacity, these teens absorb many values from their surroundings... and very rapidly too. Thus, in order to ensure these teens grow with the correct values, they need to be provided with ample guidance.

Here comes the problem. Many a time, they are unable to receive the guidance that they need to fill in their enlarged growth capacity. This situation is mainly due to the values of the American society(since this study was done in the USA)- the fact that American teenagers are usually distant from their parents. Thus, these teenagers turn to their friends to fill in their large growth capacity. Most of the time, they get negatively influenced into high-risk activities. This results in the reckless teenagers many see today.

However, as explained above, the reckless teenagers are actually mature, just that they were guided in the wrong direction. This is probably the reason why the test results showed reckless teenagers being more mature than their conservative counterparts.

However, the opposite can also apply. Conservative teens can also be mature given that they were well guided. So one cannot make an assumption that reckless teens are the only teenagers that are mature.

Lastly, I think the research team that found these results should venture abroad to other countries to conduct similar tests on teenagers too. I am certain they will find much different results in those countries because of the different values of their societies.

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