Brain Develops Risk Aversion Late
Brain immaturity can be deadly (MSNBC)
By most physical measures, teenagers should be the world’s best drivers. Their muscles are supple, their reflexes quick, their senses at a lifetime peak. Yet car crashes kill more of them than any other cause — a problem, some researchers believe, that is rooted in the adolescent brain. A National Institutes of Health study suggests that the region of the brain that inhibits risky behavior is not fully formed until age 25, a finding with implications for a host of policies, including the nation’s driving laws. “We’d thought the highest levels of physical and brain maturity were reached by age 18, maybe earlier — so this threw us,” said Jay Giedd, a pediatric psychiatrist leading the study, which released its first results in April. That makes adolescence “a dangerous time, when it should be the best.”
Last month, Sen. William C. Mims (R-Loudoun) cited brain development research in proposing a Virginia bill that would ban cell phone use in vehicles for drivers younger than 18. It passed Friday. In Maryland, Dels. Adrienne A. Mandel and William A. Bronrott said the research could bolster three bills the Montgomery County Democrats submitted to the legislature Friday. The bills would expand training and restrict passenger numbers and cell phone use for certain teenage drivers.
The measures also are supported by crash statistics and a soon-to-be released study from Temple University, which used a driving-style test to show that young people take greater risks consistently when their friends are watching. “This goes toward supporting evidence that the judgment of teens further deteriorates with distractions. These crashes are preventable,” Mandel said. “I would welcome [researchers’] testimony at our bill hearings.”
It’s not surprising that young people are less cautious than grown-ups, although the brain development angle is news to me.
Pejman Yousefzadeh observes,
If true, I find this bizarre. The interest of the species in surviving would intuitively lead to a conclusion that risk-taking would be augmented as one grows older and comes closer to death. In a perfectly logical order of things, the younger you are, the more appreciation you would have for risk, and the easier it would be for you to live to a ripe old age.
While that’s true, there’s certainly some societal advantage to the natural order. Fighting wars, hunting game, and similar endeavors require both a young body and a willingness to throw caution to the wind. It makes theoretical sense to send octogenarians out to do these tasks, on the theory that they’ve already lived full lives, but there are some serious practical limitations.