Laurence Steinberg, who teaches psychology at Temple University, recently gave a lecture at the University of Minnesota on brain development and its impact on adolescent behavior.
His lecture, titled “Should the Science of Adolescent Brain Development Inform Legal Policy?” focused on the factors that influence adolescents in their decision making.
Steinberg compared an adolescent brain to an automobile, saying that impulses for reward often push the “gas pedal” down. He also stated that consequence evaluation is our internal “braking system”, and both systems are still developing in our 20’s.
In his lecture, Steinberg noted that researchers put adolescents through a simulated driving game to determine what influenced their decisions. He said the results show an interesting trend.
“When adolescents are playing the game without their friends watching them, they don’t play it any differently than adults do,” Steinberg said.
Those results varied when friends were brought into the room.
“Just knowing that your friends are watching you doubles the number of risks teenagers take,” he said. “If we look at adults, it has no impact on their behavior whatsoever.”
The study also proved that adolescents had more satisfaction when they were being watched by their peers, but this phenomenon was not present when tested on adults.
“It leads us to think that something is going on when teenagers are with their peers that makes them especially sensitive to reward.”
Steinberg said he would like the justice system reexamine how it penalizes youth behavior, because cognitive processes are still developing well into the mid-20’s.
“It is not that unusual for our justice system to criminalize what I think most of us would consider to be, you know, stupid adolescent behavior,” he said. We need to go back to an earlier point in our history where we had a separate juvenile justice system that didn’t have such a porous border with the adult system.”
Steinberg also noted that although adolescent mischief is fairly common, adult guidance can help prevent the behavior from escalating.
“If we’re talking about a child who is at a stage of development where his own self-control is still immature and still developing, one thing that can help him is to have self-control imposed on him by other people,” he said. “That’s a role parents play that helps protect their youngsters from engaging in risky and reckless behavior.”
Minnesota Criminal Defense Attorney Avery Appelman comments
It should not be shocking that adolescents are influenced by their peers. Parents do not promote adolescent drinking or drug use and are not encouraging their young children to have sex. These behaviors are explored with teenage friends and most often are a result of peer pressure. These risky behaviors are also criminal acts, which the adolescent routinely forgets or believes are “no big deal.”
If adolescents routinely cave into peer pressure, it can lead to encounters with law enforcement and juvenile prosecutions.
Related source: Minnesota Public Radio