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The Teenage Brain is Physiologically Underdeveloped

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 3/1/2013 Category: Health
Updated: 3 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 2,868 times Debate No: 30859
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (6)
Votes (1)




My argument is that the teenage brain is not physiologically per-determined to be reckless.


I will begin by saying that every brain is different. An adult can be just as reckless an a teenager, however there are studies that suggest that in teenage years the brain is still developing. This does not mean that every teenager is reckless, but many are. Many teenagers are more prone to be pressured into doing something that they might not necessarily want to do, or that they might not even see as the right thing to do.

There are many experiments that prove teenage recklessness. For example an experiment was carried out where individual adults and teenagers had to solve a puzzle. The adults took slightly more time to think about which piece went first and where, they took more time to think but over all made less mistakes and did finish first. The teenagers put pieces together faster but more often than not the snap decisions resulted in them having to take the puzzles apart resulting in worse results. Admittedly it is arguable that puzzles are not for everyone and I do not have a link to this research so I cannot exactly use it to prove my point. Though there are many more experiments that prove that teenagers choose more reckless options and are more impressionable. I will provide a source for this at the end.

Development is not a bad thing, no one would argue that a child's brain is not fully developed so why are we arguing that a teenagers brain is? At what point is a brain fully developed? Scans of the brain at different ages does in fact prove that at earlier ages the brain is still undeveloped. They show that the prefrontal cortex (which is essentially the part of your brain that determines how 'grown up' you act) is the part that develops last meaning that the teenage brain is physiologically pre-determined to be reckless. A driving stimulation experiment indicates that teenagers are more likely to take risks when their friends are present.

Debate Round No. 1


First off, my argument is not that the teenage brain is fully developed and therefore not prone to recklessness. My argument is that the teen brain is not pre-determined to be reckless, meaning that it is the environment, as opposed to some time-related set-in-stone development.

I have heard that puzzle-type argument (teenagers took more risks while playing this simple game, therefore they are impulsive) by many respectable psychologists, including my AP Psych teacher, but it simply doesn't make any sense.

A) I would expect adults to simply be better at puzzles than teens through experience.

B) You also need to know the variance or standard deviation of the two groups, sample size to understand the overlap.

C) I don't understand what this has to do with recklessness. I meant more like drunk diving, not losing a puzzle race :)

D) The same argument could be used to against elderly people, as well as people with turrets.

Here is my main point though:

Just because brain scans show that the teenage brain is immature, does not mean that the teenage brain is physiologically pre-determined to be reckless. If teenagers are put into an environment which does not require them to use their pre-frontal cortex until they are in their mid-twenties, which just so happens to be the year most people finish college, then their pre-frontal cortex will not develop until then. No matter what brain scan you show me, no matter how many stats of recklessness you name, you still have not addressed the real issue because teenagers, living in an environment in which they are herded into the same building each day while they have no control over their lives, have no need to develop their pre-frontal cortex, therefore their brain does not develop. Teenagers live simple lives, which calls for an amygdala controlled mind.
Teenagers are not rewarded for responsibility because, as a result of this pseudo-psychological fallacy, people deem that they are not mature enough for responsibility, creating a self-fuffiling prophecy. We follow the sociological looking-glass self theory, that we are who others think we are, just like all other humans. This can be seen in other cultures. Why do non-standardized cultures without American TV not have adolescent turmoil if the brain is pre-determined to be reckless? Because people expect them to behave. Go to most countries in the world; they have no concept of adolescents and teens are valued members of society.
So, back to my main point, why would you brain teach you to respond rationally,when no matter what you do, no matter how you act you will always be judged as a nuisance? Teenagers' brains have an incredible amount of plasticity, so this theory makes perfect sense. If there is no need, it will not adapt. Please read at least the first three paragraphs and the "Interesting Facts" at the bottom of page two of this pdf. document by Robert Epstein of Harvard University:

Thanks :)


I apologise, I did not explain what I meant fully. When I say it is not developed fully I do mean that this means that it is predetermined to be reckless. If a person partly loses the function of their legs then they are predetermined to fall, if the decision making part of the brain is not fully formed then they are predetermined to be reckless and to make questionable decisions. Development is not set in stone, of course, when someone reaches 18 they don't automatically become responsible but as I said before, evidence shows that in most teenagers recklessness is prone. And regarding the environment argument, well the only research that I have found for and against is anecdotal and I don't know about you but I don't feel that stories are suitable for debates.

It's a simple game, yes, but the fact is that you agree that they took more risks. It does not necessarily solidly prove anything but it does seem to indicate that teenagers are reckless. And many respectable psychologists (including the ones who made this research) it does make sense.

That may be the case however the puzzle was created for the purpose of that experiment and so I doubt that anyone had any previous experiences with it. Statistics for drunk driving would hardly prove anything as there is a much higher number of adults who can drive than there are teenagers. You can argue that the percentage would still provide evidence, though I would argue that the minority of teenagers that do drive are often the ones who are more responsible. It could be used, but this argument is not about elderly people or people with turrets.

Then how do you explain teenagers or young people who grow up the same as their peers but do have better judgment? Their environment is the same. If the pre-frontal cortex can develop regardless of the environment then I think it does show that it is not the environment, but just the amount of time that is needed for the brain to further develop. Them finishing college can be nothing more than a coincidence. The scans show that their brain is not developed and you cannot prove that the brain develops when it needs to. That is not exactly true, in countries where teenagers have to fend for themselves they obviously do not live simple lives yet they are still more likely to be reckless. That argument is as flawed as saying that alcoholics (who have not had help) are not predetermined to drink just because there are alcoholics who can't get to alcohol and so don't drink. In some cultures and countries there simply aren't as many things to be reckless about. In America, for example, most of the teenagers have access to nearly anything. I'm not saying that they can have anything they want but what I mean is that things are available (e.g. cars, harmful substances).

That is not the case at all, there are teenagers who are treated as adults and respected because they act like they are, not to be judgmental but a lot do not. There is always a need to adapt, it is basic survival, even something like crossing the road requires basic judgment skills but drive past a school and you'll see a bunch of teenagers who aren't even looking where they're walking.
Debate Round No. 2


Thanks for responding :)

I am talking about a larger context here. Like voting rights, drinking age, and age of consent. Image a world where we hand out voting rights to those who solve puzzles and win games the fastest.

Sorry I didn't clarify more, but I meant older people are more likely to have experience solving puzzles in general, not that specific puzzle.

Do you have any evidence that mature teens brains develop at the same rate as other teens? And if that were the case, wouldn't you have also debunked your own argument because you would have proven that maturity is independent of the brain.

You have to provide evidence for what you said that teenagers in developing countries are more reckless. This is not true. Read further into the link I sent you round, the guy goes over it. The idea of adolescents has existed only since the turn of the 19th century. Studies by Margret Mead also suggest this.

"The scans show that their brain is not developed and you cannot prove that the brain develops when it needs to."
This is called neuroplasticity.

"Neuroplasticity has replaced the formerly-held position that the brain is a physiologically static organ, and explores how - and in which ways - the brain changes throughout life." This only came from Wikipedia, but I'm sure a page as important as neuroplacticity would have correct citation.

The brain during adolescents prune out what it needs and doesn't need and, if all you do is homework, video games, and :), then you will not learn risk management properly, until you are put into a situation in which you actually need use it. Even things like driving can help.

Just because some other countries are poor doesn't mean that the people there cannot be reckless. You can get drugs in Samoa, you can have unprotected sex in somoa,you can commit suicide in soma, you can have alcohol in Somoa, yet studies have shown tthat these tendencies are not any higher there among teens than adults (Im not trying to use unfair, isolated examples by saying Somoa over and over again, its just that I didnt want to have to type "developing nations which do not have western standardization" four times and Somoa is one of them.)

Your final paragraph is irrelevant and could be use to argue things like "Mexicans brains make them violent" because Mexican are statistically more likely to be violent. Such logic was used in scientific racism, sexism, and homophobia many years ago, and still in certain places today.

There are many factors which you need to consider here. Things like sleep, nutrition, and poverty drastically affect these issues. Teens are much, much poorer than adults because poorer people much more likely to accidentally have children for a variety of reasons. This obviously could leed many problems for teens. Simply saying that some teens dont look both ways before crossing does not consider confounding variables.

Thanks, this has been a great debate. Sorry if I sounded mean or aggravated, I can assure you that if I try not to. :)


And image the world where anyone from the age of 13 could vote, as technically 13 year old are teenagers.

There are anomalies, brains that develop faster and brains that develop slower. The majority seem to develop after teenage years or right at the end. I did not say that they are more reckless, by which I assume you mean that they are more reckless than other teens? I read it. It may have existed since then but to be fair life expectancy was a lot different (source C) which would have had an impact. And again, this is the same as the developing countries argument except that before it was even more different. Females could not even leave the house unless they went to church or had an escort and even young males wouldn't have had much freedom.

It can be edited by anyone so it may not all be correct. Now explain why teens who actually are forced into a difficult situation and are still reckless? According to you, if they are taken out of the safe school environment and given proper responsibilities they should become responsible, not immediately but overall the should. But then there are plenty of teens living in poverty that have to provide for their siblings, themselves, or even their parents, so for example, why are the pregnancy rates amongst them so high? (source D)

Actually, 16-year olds have the highest risk of dying in a car accident, teenage drivers are least likely to wear seat belts, and overall there is a ridiculous amount of deaths of teenage drivers per year. When I say that I do mean that they died in car crashes, not that they died while being drivers. (source A, B)

It is less likely that they will be reckless though. Usually recklessness is about having fun, doing things that are thrilling. Suicide is not part of that, depression and other issues as such can cause suicidal tendencies. Teen pregnancies are higher in developing countries. (Source D) You can argue that a lot of the time they are in wedlock, however that does not sound responsible either, it is more than likely that the pregnancy was due to consummating the marriage without contraception. In a lot of developing countries the couple would be in poverty, in likely case they would have a hard time providing food for themselves and the child, health care would probably be even more rare as even in developed countries like America healthcare can be expensive and not accessible by all. Is bringing a child into the world when they will in all likely hood suffer responsible? Parental love is important but it is arguable that not starving is even more important. You need money to get drugs, if food is a luxury then I doubt you'd have money to waste on getting high.

I did not explain myself correctly, what I was meant to say was that even teenagers who are given responsibilities can still be reckless compared to adults. I have talked about this throughout this post in more detail, and hopefully I worded myself better.

And what exactly would be the reasons? Surely if you know that you won't be able to care for the child that you will have if you have unprotected sex is just irresponsible? And a teenagers brain would be forced to develop if they are in poverty since they would have to make the difficult decisions etcetera, so does that not show that their brain is predetermined to be reckless? In addition, in one of your previous paragraphs you listen unprotected sex as a reckless thing and pregnancy is a result of unprotected sex. Though you did state that the brain adapts, looking both ways when causing the road is necessary and not doing it can be fatal so should the brain not adapt to make at least the majority of teens do so?

Debate Round No. 3
6 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 6 records.
Posted by volmorde 3 years ago
'Con disproved Pro's statistics concerning North American teens by taking a more holistic viewpoint and showing that adolescents in other societies act differently.' I know reading all the sources posted can be extremely boring but if you're gonna vote then you have to and pro very clearly posted sources about teens in developing countries as well, and she talked about the source in one of the rounds so your vote was ignorant.
But at least you admitted that Con had no arguments. The only criticism I have of pro is that he failed to point out that Con wasn't debating about what the title suggested he would.
Posted by AlbinoBunny 3 years ago
You touched on it, but I don't think you went into enough depth.
Posted by ddee 3 years ago
I couldn't find evidence for them being reckless for experience so I didn't bring it up as opposition could have said that they're not reckless if they're trying to learn/experience. And didn't I say that in the first point? That was basically why I accepted this debate so I feel really stupid now.
Posted by AlbinoBunny 3 years ago
"My argument is that the teenage brain is not physiologically per-determined to be reckless."

The title is misleading.

ddee should have pointed out puberty, TheBlueTurtle argued that the reason teenaged brains are the way they are is because they have limited experience, and experience develops the brain. Therefore if they had valuable enough experiences, I think he expects their brains to be on par with recklessness as an adults brain. He claims that adults and teenagers are just as reckless in other countries but provides no evidence.

From what I've heard, some or most teenagers may be predisposed to recklessness because it motivates them to experience the world around them. I'm not sure if they've found any evidence for that yet though.
Posted by ddee 3 years ago
Oh I'm sorry, I was also meant to say thank you for this debate at the end but I missed that out so thank you for the debate! And three rounds was perfect for this, in my opinion at least.
Posted by TheBlueTurtle 3 years ago
Do you want to increase the number of rounds?
1 votes has been placed for this debate.
Vote Placed by Numidious 3 years ago
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Total points awarded:30 
Reasons for voting decision: Con disproved Pro's statistics concerning North American teens by taking a more holistic viewpoint and showing that adolescents in other societies act differently. When statistics weren't present I noticed pro making several fairly broad and unproven claims, such as "The majority seem to develop after teenage years or right at the end." The best refuted case was the puzzle and the argument that there are many possible variables that weren't taken into account - I don't see many Con arguments but I do give the debate to con because he disproved pro and pro had the burden of proof