MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Dan Romer PhD
Research director, Annenberg Public Policy Center
Director of its Adolescent Communication Institute
University of Pennsylvania
MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study?
Response: In recent years, findings from research in developmental neuroscience indicate that the myelination of the prefrontal cortex (PFC) extends into the third decade of life, proceeding more slowly than in other brain regions. Because subcortical and sensory brain regions appear to mature earlier, this and other findings have been taken as evidence that adolescents may have less ability to control their behavior than children do. These findings spawned theories of “imbalanced” adolescent brain development that were proposed to explain heightened vulnerability to risky behavior and adverse health outcomes during adolescence.
Although there is little doubt that as adolescents enter adulthood, they are at risk for many health outcomes that can accompany the initiation of such behaviors as driving, having sex, using drugs, and playing sports. But most adolescents make it through this period of development without serious health consequences. Thus, the argument that a brain deficit is responsible for such adverse health outcomes seemed to overgeneralize effects that only occur for a minority of adolescents. Furthermore, when my colleagues and I examined the evidence in support of imbalance theories, we found it unconvincing. Indeed, it seemed that findings from neuroscience were interpreted through the lens of stereotypes about adolescents that conflate exploration with impulsivity. That is, many of the risky behaviors that attract adolescents are novel activities that reflect lack of experience rather than lack of control over behavior. Continue reading