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Neuroscience in the Court System - Are 18 Year Olds Really Adults?

Wednesday, June 28, 2017


Neuroscience in the Court System Do you think an 18 year old is an adult? It’s commonly accepted that by the age of 18, a young man or a woman is an adult with adult privileges and adult consequences. For example, if you commit a crime at the age of 18 you’ll be tried as an adult in the court of law.

Yet, neuroscience shows that the brain is not fully developed by then. The process for making new connections and pruning unnecessary neurons continues well into the early twenties. Surprisingly, there’s an explosion of connectivity occurring after the age of 18. No wonder these young adults often make unwise decisions!

Earlier I wrote about Laurence Steinberg, a psychologist at Temple University, who found that “cognitive skills usually form by age 16 while psychosocial maturity — measured by impulsivity, risk perception, thrill-seeking, resistance to peer influence — doesn’t begin until age 18, steadily increasing through the early 20s.”

A recent New York Times article considers the impact this is having on the criminal court system and what alternatives we might have. According to the article, “Young adults 18 to 24 make up 10 percent of the population, but they account for 28 percent of all arrests (2.1 million in 2015), a rate higher than that of any other age group.”

The article also reports on a new experiment based on neuroscience. A number of cities are now hosting Young Adult Courts – a hybrid of adult/juvenile justice systems. (San Francisco was the first. Now there are more across the U.S. as well as in England and Wales.)

The court staff is trained in neuroscience by a clinical psychologist, so they can apply this science to offenders between the ages of 18-24. They follow up by providing these immature “adults” with supervision, education, and support as they weekly check in and report their progress.

Rather than having a permanent black mark on their record, which can adversely change their entire future prospects, these young adults are getting help to mature and develop better decision-making skills. This a definite WIN!

Understanding how the brain works is fundamental to solving many of the issues young ones face today. I’m fascinated especially by how empathy is formed in some individuals while it isn’t formed in others. I’ll let you in on a secret…I’m in the process of writing my next book on the topic of empathy. I’m anxious to share with you what I’ve learned.

Did you know I provide online education specifically for how entrepreneurial couples and families with ASD can apply neuroscience and psychology to improve their relationships? And if you have personal issues you need help with, you might qualify for online therapy as well. In our busy, hectic lives, the Internet can make counseling easier and more accessible. Why not see if it’s right for you?



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