Four 14-year-old boys trying to wake up a girl asleep in her house inadvertently set off a burglar alarm and ran from approaching police officers. Child psychologist Laurence Steinberg told the story to the New Jersey Governor’s Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Committee, reports the Newark Star-Ledger. Why did you run, Steinberg asked one of the boys. “What were you thinking?” “That’s the problem,” the boy replied. “I wasn’t thinking.”
Steinberg argued that teenage brains don’t work the same way as adult brains and that youthful offenders should be handled differently in the courts. Teenage brains are much more influenced by emotional arousal, peer pressure, and risk taking than adult brains, because their impulse control and judgment is less well developed. Steinberg, a Temple University psychology professor and director of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Adolescent Development and Juvenile Justice, said the network is compiling data from a behavioral study of more than 900 subjects ages 10 to 30 in Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Denver, Los Angeles, and Orange County, Calif. Now scientists are using electroencephalograms, PET scans, positron emission tomography and a new version of magnetic resonance imaging that shows brain function to show physical changes that coincide with the behavioral changes.