Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Have We Got the "Teen Brain" All Wrong?

One thing that is commonly accepted as a truism in the USA is that crime, especially violent crime, is a young person's (and especially a young man's) vice.  It typically rises rapidly in the mid-teens and peaks around the late teens and very early twenties before rapidly and then gradually declining from then on, and it is often said that "the best cure for crime is a 30th birthday."  The statistics do indeed bear this out, but it is often accepted without question that the causes of this phenomenon are biological (particularly neurological and/or hormonal) as opposed to cultural ones.

Well, a new study by researchers at Penn State seems to put the lie to the biological determinist theory.    While previous studies tended to look only at Western cultures (which all show a similar age pattern for crime), this one compared the USA to Taiwan instead.  If brain development (or lack thereof) is the cause, then the age pattern for crime should be pretty much the same worldwide, but it turns out that this was not the case for Taiwan.  Over there, crime peaked in the late twenties and early thirties, roughly a decade later than in the USA.  Thus, the researchers concluded, that cultural factors, not biological/neurological ones, are primarly responsible for the crime patterns by age.   Notably, this is true even though the drinking age in Taiwan is 18, compared to 21 in the USA.

It is rare that a single study can overturn such an apparent mountain of evidence.  Unless, of course, that "mountain" turned out to be a molehill all along--and a rather shaky one at that.

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