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.

Maturity Briefing Paper image.jpg

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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Whoopi Goldberg, David Eagleman, and the Brain

Karma is the Sanskrit word for action and is a fundamental concept in Buddhism that refers to our actions as having a direct effect on our future conditions. But what is it about our brains that sucker us into making decisions we know are not grounded in reality? “We’re not fixed. From cradle to grave, we are works in progress,” says neuroscientist David Eagleman. Last week at New York City’s Rubin Museum, Eagleman was joined by actress and comedian Whoopi Goldberg for an entertaining discussion on whether “fate and destiny should be deciding factors in human behavior.”

Photo credit: Lyn Hughes/Courtesy of the Rubin Museum

Photo credit: Lyn Hughes/Courtesy of the Rubin Museum

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Brooklyn: Free Talk on Decision-Making

Why might you decide to go to the Secret Science Club at the Bell House in Brooklyn on Tuesday, August 20? If you don’t go, you may never know; neuroscientist Anne Churchland is going to be on hand to discuss…wait for it…decision-making.

Secret Science Club explains:

At Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, neuroscientist Anne Churchland works at the cutting edge of research on decision-making. She asks:

  • How does your brain compile all the bits of sensory data it receives to make good (or even not so good) decisions?
  • What can new technologies and experiments tell us about how we think–even when our “thinking” is subconscious?
  • How does the brain handle multisensory input? Is one sense favored over others?
  • Why are simple decisions sometimes so complex? What might the neuroscience of decision-making tell us about anxiety, addiction, and other disorders?

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Understanding How We Learn: Columbia’s Mind Brain Behavior Initiative

From who we marry to how we invest to the words we type, some of our most important decisions are based on how we process instantaneous feedback.

Daphna Shohamy, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychology and founder and director of The Learning Lab at the Columbia University Mind Brain Behavior Initiative, focused on how the brain supports learning, memory, and decision-making in a lecture hosted by the initiative and sponsored by the Dana Foundation.

Shohamy began by showing two images side-by-side, one freezing terrain and the other, a sun-filled beach. She explained that at age 10, her family moved from Minneapolis to Tel Aviv, and the images depicted both environments. The stark differences between the cultures and her surroundings led her to wonder about the way we learn, and sent her on an academic path that would begin at Tel-Aviv University and include graduate work at Rutgers and Stanford universities before moving to Columbia University five years ago.

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The Deliberating Brain: Columbia’s Mind Brain Behavior Initiative

Not long ago, my editor asked if I wanted to cover a lecture
by a premier neuroscience researcher on the fascinating topic of “the
deliberating brain,” preceded by cocktails at one of New York’s most elegant
old hotels.

As decisions go, I thought, this was a no-brainer.

But I was wrong. One thing that Dana Alliance member Michael
N. Shadlen, M.D., Ph.D., made very clear in his talk, hosted by the Columbia
University Mind Brain Behavior Initiative
 and sponsored by the Dana
Foundation, is that no decision is a no-brainer. “By understanding the building
blocks of decision making,” he told his audience, “we can understand how the
brain achieves cognition writ large.”

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