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The Myth of the Teen Brain

We blame teen turmoilon immature brains. But did the brains cause the turmoil, or did the turmoil shape the brains?
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It's not only in newspaper headlines--it's even on magazine covers. TIME, U.S. News & World Report and even Scientific American Mind have all run cover stories proclaiming that an incompletely developed brain accounts for the emotional problems and irresponsible behavior of teenagers. The assertion is driven by various studies of brain activity and anatomy in teens. Imaging studies sometimes show, for example, that teens and adults use their brains somewhat differently when performing certain tasks.

As a longtime researcher in psychology and a sometime teacher of courses on research methods and statistics, I have become increasingly concerned about how such studies are being interpreted. Although imaging technology has shed interesting new light on brain activity, it is dangerous to presume that snapshots of activity in certain regions of the brain necessarily provide useful information about the causes of thought, feeling and behavior.

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