Monday, June 21, 2004

Let's Rethink Brains

When I was young, it bothered me a lot that my parents didn’t think that I could be trusted to reason through situations safely and properly. After all, how are you going to learn to think and reason unless you are allowed to do it on a regular basis? Now some recent research is coming together that is beginning to explain why my parents were so uncomfortable with my youthful reasoning. Now that I’ve lived through that time in my life and watched my children live through that time, this research makes a lot of sense.

The first paragraph of an article entitled "Getting Inside a Teen Brain" in Newsweek, February 28, 2000, Sharon Begley spells out the observable data. “You probably recognize the species: it's known for making stupid decisions... barely able to plan beyond the next minute... clueless when it comes to reading parents' facial expressions... exhibits poor self-control... seems to think with its hormones more than its brain... all thumbs when juggling several tasks. Such is Homo teenageris.”

Jay Giedd of the National Institute of Mental Health: “What is most surprising is that you get a second wave of overproduction of gray matter, something that was thought to happen only in the first 18 months of life.

The first surprise came last May, with the discovery that the corpus callosum, the cable of nerves that connects the right half of the brain to the left, ‘continues growing into your 20s,’ says Giedd.

In a piece entitled “Adolescent Brains are Works in Progress” by Frontline producer Sarah Spinks: “What the researchers have found has shed light on how the brain grows and when it grows. It was thought at one time that the foundation of the brain's architecture was laid down by the time a child is five or six. Indeed, 95 percent of the structure of the brain has been formed by then. But these researchers have discovered changes in the structure of the brain that appear relatively late in child development.”

At the NIMH web site there is a review of research into the development of human brains. The article entitled, “Teenage Brain: A work in progress” the following statement is made: ”The observed late maturation of the frontal lobe conspicuously coincides with the typical age-of-onset of schizophrenia—late teens, early twenties—which, as noted earlier, is characterized by impaired ‘executive’ functioning.” This, coupled with our own observations of others and ourselves might lead us to change many of the ways we do things.

It could be that we, as a nation, need to rethink several things: 1) parenting, what is involved and how long it takes, 2) voting age, 3) drinking and driving age, 4) minimum age for marriage 5) minimum age for the death penalty and possibly 6) minimum ages for becoming a soldier. It appears that our brains finally mature somewhere in the mid-twenties.

1 comment:

J Michael said...

Hear! Hear! Even if we have no intention of changing our hallowed systems or viewpoints, lets all at least reconsider the nature of the human brain and its development. We can't know how to rule ourselves until we know what we are and how we function. Then perhaps we can apply some rational foresight to our rulings. Who's the smarty who said you can drive a fast car (No! MUST drive a fast car) at sixteen, but until the age of 21 you must go far away and hide in the dark to drink alcohol? That line of reasoning is the guilty party in teen DWI's.