this is fascinating to me. allstate has an advertisement out completely built on the research of adolescent brain development (specifically about the underdeveloped prefrontal cortex — the decision making center of the brain) that i’ve been posting about so much (see here (primal teen review), here (thoughts about the proliferation then winnowing of neurons prior to and after puberty), here (purely speculative rumination about mary’s cognitive ability — this one really ticked some people off!), here (just a cartoon), here (link to an excellent overview article), here (notes from jh pastors summit of dr. todd clements presentation), here (discussion of implications for teaching middle schoolers), and here (discussion of implications for younger youth ministry volunteers).
here’s the ad (sorry it’s a bit pixilated):
here’s some of the ad copy:
Why do most 16 year olds drive like they are missing part of their brain? Because they are.
Even bright, mature teenagers sometimes do things that are ‘stupid.’ But when that happens, it’s not really their fault. It’s because their brain hasn’t finished developing. The underdeveloped area is called the dorsal lateral prefrontal cortex. It plays a critical role in decision making, problem solving and understanding future consequences of today’s actions. Problem is, it won’t be fully mature until they’re into their 20s.
Car crashes injure about 300,000 teens a year and kill 6,000.
anastasia (who has written about her mild skepticism of the research claims) reports that people have predicted this research will be used (in good ways and bad) by pharmaceutical companies. she quotes dr. robert epstein:
The drug companies have a strong incentive to convince public policymakers, researchers, media professionals and the general public that faulty brains underlie all our problems — and, of course, that pharmaceuticals can fix those problems. Researchers, in turn, have a strong incentive to convince the public and various funding agencies that their research helps to “explain” important social phenomena.
i have a couple problems with this ad, which override the fact that i welcome ‘implicationing’ of research:
1. if you’re going to show a cute little brain, don’t imply there’s a puzzle-piece section that is all about cars. yeah, i get the idea — but i think it subtly teaches a handful of wrong concepts about the brain (wrong concepts that, in this case, allstate would like you to embrace).
2. “it’s not really their fault” is an absurd jump in reasoning. if all the new research is accurate, it still only provides an understanding of why teenagers struggle to make good decisions (among other implications). it does NOT remove culpability for lousy decisions! in fact, when dr. todd clements spoke to our jh pastors summit about this issue, he stressed that the only real way to help students through this period of time when they don’t have the brain function for optimized decision making is to consistently expect them to live with the consequences of their choices – good and bad (instead of guilt, bullying, promises of reward or punishment, and other attempts at behavior modification that do not really make sense given what we know about the adolescent brain).
related: i DO find it interesting that car rental companies have known this for years — not based on brain research, but based on empirical data from their rental crashes. car rental companies have, for years, not allowed drivers to be under 25 (the age todd clements told us young adult reach full “capacity” for wisdom maturity). we — at the jh pastors summit — had a tough conversation about what this means for those of us with a bunch of under-25 volunteers who drive middle schoolers around, or under-25 interns.