Accueil » Editorial » Teens’ brain and risk taking / Le cerveau des ados et le risque

Teens’ brain and risk taking / Le cerveau des ados et le risque

I strongly recommend October’s 2012  ed. of National Geographic. There is a special issue about teenagers’ brains and what neurosciences can teach us on this. Apparently a teen brain goes from the age of 12 to the age of 25. As you probably know babies are born with a rather ’empty’ brain, with only the reptilian (limbic) part of the brain fully functional. Over more complex and cortical parts of the brain get connected and ‘filled in’ troughout the years. But at age 12 90% of the brain is thus ‘filled in’. So it then on is not so much a continuation of this ‘filling in’ than a complete revolution that teen brains undergo, whereby every function, every part of the brain is sort of redistributed like a mega cocktail shaker. So there is such a thing as a teenage from the neuroscientific point of view and it is not only a social construct.
What is fascinating for us is that neurosciences can tell us quite a lot about risk taking during that rather long phase – which coincides nearlly to a T to your regular criminal career by the way. It is apparently not so much that teenagers are able to assess and evaluate danger and risk: they do it just as well as adults. The difference with us is that they tend to give a more important value to the benefit/pleasure associated to risk taking and hence when putting risk on the one hand and pleasure, on the other in the balance, they tend to give more importance to pleasure. And this is considerably increased when this evaluation happens whilst they are in the presence of peers…
This would have been crucial in terms of evolution (remember we were hunter/gatherer/nomads for the most part of our evolution and that our brain was shaped around this) where it was important for young people (most of our ancestors never got a chance to grow old) to be adventurous despite danger.

If you want to learn more about brain, evolution and criminology here are a few references:

  • A. Walsh, K. M. Beaver (eds.), Biosocial Criminology. New Directions in Theory and Research, Routledge, 2009
  • T.E. Moffitt and S.A. Mednick, Biological Contributions to Crime Causations, Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 1988
  • R.I. M. Dunbar and Louise Barrett (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Evolutionary Psychology, Oxford University Press, 2007
  • L. Tancredi, Hardwire Behavior. What Neurosciences Reveals about Morality, Cambridge University Press, 2005