This writer never ceases to be amazed at the level of complex processes involved in brain development. Specifically, Feldman (2011) notes, “One specific area of the brain that undergoes considerable development throughout adolescence is the prefrontal cortex, which is not fully developed until around the early 20’s. The prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain that allows people to think, evaluate, and make complex judgments in a uniquely human way” (p. 358). In other words, biological and physiological activity plays a critical role in the holistic development of the human personality, and by extension, the social conduct of persons. From a biological perspective, myelination, neuron transmission speeds, and the ratio of gray to white matter in the brain are all intricately involved in the brain development process (Feldman, 2011).
A number of other salient factors impinge on the choices made by adolescents and adults including societal and communal influences, culture, parental upbringing, religious and spiritual standing, and socioeconomic status. In this writer’s estimation, the type of school environment and the types of friends our pre-teens associate with are major contributors in shaping their lifestyle decisions and choices. According to Feldman (2011), “Although school-age children can use some metacognitive strategies, adolescents are much more adept at understanding their own mental processes” (p. 364). In short, through information processing, most middle and late adolescents develop the capacity to think abstractly, critically, and engage in reasoning.
This writer posits that given the plethora of data adolescents and adults are exposed to through books, interpersonal exposure, and social and electronic media, some type of filtration process must be engaged. In this regard, one’s personal interwoven core beliefs and values will ultimately dictate what is deemed residue and what is deemed filtrate. The residue of course will be discarded and filtrate will ultimately determine one’s personal choices. Hawley (2011) affirms this reasoning, “Behaviors with a wide array of outcomes – both beneficial and costly – are high risk. When such behaviors are performed they may result in a net cost or a net benefit. Therein resides the risk” (p. 311). The foregoing metaphor of cost-benefit analysis aptly describes the rational aspect of the decision making process. However, is this analysis complete? This writer posits that it is not, and that multiple factors are in fact further engaged.
According to Albert and Steinberg (2011), “Research on judgment and decision making (JDM) has taken several new directions during the past decade, moving away from studies that focus purely on rational processing and towards research that adds psychosocial factors into the mix. It now attempts to link behavioral research with emergent models of adolescent brain development” (p. 221). In other words, perhaps a more accurate view would be to envisage this complex web of processing some multi-dimensional Venn-diagram which encapsulates internally one’s life experiences, ideology, theology, intrinsic beliefs and values and externally one’ s socio-economic status, culture, and societal and communal influences. In short, this writer posits that the decision-making process that leads to one’s ultimate choices is not clearly understood, but rather it is a highly sophisticated and dynamic process still undergoing research.
Albert, D., & Steinberg, L. (2011). Judgment and decision making in adolescents. Journal of Research on Adolescents, 21(1), 211-224.
Feldman, R. S. (2011). Development across the life span. New Jersey: Pearson.
Hawley, P. H. (2011). The evolution of adolescents and the adolescents of evolution: The coming of age of humans and the theory about the forces that made them. Journal of Research on Adolescences, 21(1), 307-316.