When is the Brain “Mature”?

In the New York state budget just passed by Albany, legislators will raise the age to be tried as an adult from 16 to 18 years. New York was one of only two states left in the US that prosecuted youth as adults when they turned 16–now North Carolina stands on its own.

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Photo credit: Shutterstock

In the US, law and policy have struggled to determine an accurate age to judge people mature and accountable, but new scientific findings regarding the brain, adolescence, and neurodevelopment counter the idea that we can pinpoint one age for everyone.

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Exploring the Adolescent Brain

Neuroscientists say adolescence is “a wonderful time.” Beleaguered parents may disagree.

“The adolescent brain isn’t broken or defective,” Dr. Jay Giedd told an audience at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) on Wednesday. “It’s different from the child’s brain, and it’s different from the adult’s brain, but those differences have many upsides.”

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June 12 in DC: Adolescent Brain Panel

Don’t miss out on the opportunity to learn more about the teen brain at tomorrow evening’s panel discussion, “What Are They Thinking? Exploring the Adolescent Brain." The speakers are Jay Giedd, chief of the brain imaging unit in the child psychiatry branch at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH); Elaine Walker, professor of psychology and neuroscience at Emory University; and Elizabeth Albro, associate commissioner, National Center for Education Research, U.S. Department of Education. Alan I. Leshner, chief executive officer of AAAS and a former deputy director and acting director of NIMH, will make opening remarks. 

The event is part of the free Neuroscience and Society series, sponsored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and the Dana Foundation. It will be held at the AAAS auditorium in DC.

Visit the AAAS website for more information and to register.

–Ann L. Whitman

Mental Preparation of Elite Athletes

The Olympics start this Friday and one can only imagine what’s going through the athletes’ heads in preparation for such a high-profile event. At any sporting event, but particularly events at this elite level, it’s not only about physical ability, but also about handling the mental aspect of competition.

In the Dana Foundation’s latest briefing paper, “The Mental Preparation of High-Level Athletes,” decorated Olympic gymnast Shannon Miller says, “The physical aspect of the sport can only take you so far. The mental aspect has to kick in, especially when you’re talking about the best of the best. In the Olympic Games, everyone is talented. Everyone trains hard. Everyone does the work. What separates the gold medalists from the silver medalists is simply the mental game.”

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The Changing Teenage Brain

“The teen brain is not a broken or defective adult brain,” Dr. Jay Giedd told an auditorium full of teachers at last week’s Learning and the Brain Symposium.

But it is in a period of great change and opportunities.

“The long development period gives the brain more time to become specialized.” Giedd, chief of the Unit on Brain Imaging in the Child Psychiatry Branch at the National Institute for Mental Health, thinks this can be “empowering for teens” as they try new things and build the skills that could shape the rest of their lives. “Plasticity has vulnerabilities, but has many, many upsides.”

Just what is happening inside an adolescent’s brain?

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