WASHINGTON – A 16-year-old might be quite capable of making an informed decision about ending a pregnancy, in consultation with an adult. But the same teenager may lack the maturity to be held to adult levels of responsibility if she commits a violent crime, according to new research.
“Adolescents likely possess the necessary intellectual skills to make informed choices about terminating a pregnancy but may lack the social and emotional maturity to control impulses,” said LaurenceSteinberg, who led the study.
Steinberg, professor of developmental psychology at Temple University, added: “This immaturity mitigates their criminal responsibility.”
“It is very difficult for a 16-year-old to resist peer pressure in a heated, volatile situation,” Steinberg said. “Most times, there is no time to talk to an adult to inject some reason and reality to the situation. Many crimes committed by adolescents are done in groups with other teenagers and are not premeditated.”
Steinberg and co-authors recruited 935 participants (age group 10-30) to examine age differences in a variety of cognitive and psychosocial capacities.
The participants took different tests measuring psychosocial (emotional) maturity and cognitive ability to examine age patterns in numerous factors that affect judgment and decision-making.
The maturity measures included tests of impulse control, sensation-seeking, resistance to peer influence, future orientation and risk perception. The cognitive battery included measures of basic intellectual abilities.
There were no differences among the youngest four age groups (10-11, 12-13, 14-15 and 16-17) on the measures of psychosocial maturity.
But significant differences in maturity, favouring adults, were found between the 16- to 17-year-olds and those 22 years and older, and between the 18- to 21-year-olds and those 26 and older. Results were the same for males and females, the authors said.
In contrast, differences in cognitive capacity measures increased from ages 11 to 16 and then showed no improvements after age 16 – exactly the opposite of the pattern found in the psychosocial measures.
The findings appeared in the October issue of American Psychologist.
WASHINGTON – Binge drinking can weaken body’s ability to fight off infections for at least 24 hours afterwards, finds a new study.
Stephen Pruett, currently at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Mississippi State University, USA and Ruping Fan of Louisiana State University Health Sciences Centre, USA, focused their study on the effect of heavy drinking on toll-like receptor 4 (TLR4), a protein that has an important role in immune system activation.
Previous research has shown that too much alcohol inhibits the body’s production of pro-inflammatory cytokines, which are signalling molecules that launch the inflammatory response to infection.
The new study conducted over mouse model has confirm that acute alcohol exposure prevents the body from producing certain key pro-inflammatory cytokines.
The researchers found that ethanol molecules suppress TLR4’s usual ability to send signals that would normally trigger the production of inflammatory cytokines.
Alcohol’s effects continue long after the party is over: some cytokines were still not on full duty guarding against infection 24 hours after the binge.
“The time frame during which the risk of infection is increased might be at least 24 hours,” said Pruett.
“A persistent effect of ethanol on cells is indicated, such that inhibition of the response of some cytokines occurs even after the ethanol is cleared,” he added.
The study is published in the open access journal BMC Immunology.
Teenagers can be weird creatures. They slam doors, burst into tears at the drop of a hat and get spots just when they want to look their best. But considering all the hormones and chemicals surging through their bodies their behavior is actually quite restrained.
Are hormones to blame when you suffer from teen angst, get spots just before a big night out or even battle to get out of bed in the morning?
If you understand what’s going on in your body it may help you realize why you are the way you are. It could also help you cope with certain things – such as getting those dreaded spots.
You’re exposed to mankind’s unique hormonal magic potion for the first time between the ages of six and eight. That’s when the adrenal glands at the top of the kidneys start secreting androgens. Androgens are just the start of the flood of hormones you’ll be exposed to.
Together they form a complex, sensitive system in which one hormone’s level determines another’s or triggers the secretion of another. At the age of about 10 for girls and 12 for boys the androgens in your body reach a level high enough to produce underarm and pubic hair, make your skin oilier and cause acne.
They’re also responsible for that nasty teen-specific smelliness that happens when you perspire and don’t bathe regularly.
Androgen is followed by gonadotropin, a hormone that stimulates the sexual glands. Over the next year or two the level of gonadotropin in the blood increases sharply. This leads to the secretion of further hormones by the pituitary gland in the brain, which switches on the ovaries (in girls) and testes (in boys).
At this point you’re not fully formed yet but you are knee-deep in puberty and as you get deeper even more hormones are released. Ovaries produce oestrogen and progesterone. Testes produce testosterone. A teenage boy’s testosterone levels increase quickly to adult levels – 50 timeshigher than before, which is an enormous hormonal explosion.
And then parents wonder why a boy of 13 or 14 sometimes behaves strangely. It’s oestrogen that causes girls’ breasts to grow. It also determines a young woman’s shape through the redistribution of body fat.
Fat is now stored on girls’ hips.
Testosterone takes charge of boys’ body shape: baby fat gives way to muscle and hair appears in unexpected places for the first time.
Eventually girls experience their first menstruation and boys their first full erection and ejaculation. This is the point at which you sometimes fall head over heels in love and the slightest touch, or even just a wink, from that special person has your heart skipping a beat.
The hormone mystery
ProfessorStevenHough, a specialist in endocrinology (the study of hormones) at the University of Stellenbosch’s health sciences faculty, says scientists are still puzzled by what triggers hormone secretion. It’s thought that the nervous system, social and psychological factors, as well as your diet, all play a role.
It’s generally accepted children today start puberty at an earlier age. In 1850 girls got their first period at 17. Today it’s happening at 12.
A better diet, general prosperity and better medical care could be reasons for this. Being overweight can also cause you to start developing earlier. Many people believe hormones have just as dramatic an effect on the behavior of teenagers as they do on their body shape.
Parents talk about “hormones on legs” and complain about their teen kids’ fickle moods, impulsive behavior and over-emotionality. It appears young people crave excitement and enjoy wild behavior.
Statistics bear this out, VivienneParry writes in her book The Truth About Hormones (Atlantic Books, 2005). Accidents and thrill-seeking cause over three quarters of teen fatalities. The sturm und drang years (years of storm and longing), some call them.
But whether hormones are to blame when you sneak out of the house at night to go to a party is open to debate.
In the past it was believed the brain was fully developed by adolescence but new research shows biological adulthood is reached only by the late teens and early twenties. During the teen years the nerve endings in the forebrain are “pruned” to make them more effective.
This explains why thought processes such as goal setting, establishing priorities, organization and impulse control develop only later on.
“Hormones can’t get all the blame for teenage behavior. It’s not just testosterone that’s responsible for dangerous behavior but also the inability of an immature brain to perceive and evaluate risky behavior,’’ Parry writes.
When it comes to sexual behavior she compares the immature brain to a speeding car without a driver. Adolescent girls have the hormones and figures of adult women, while testosterone causes an adolescent boy to think of sex every six seconds – and this while the brain’s reasoning ability is still under construction.
Sleep is essential
Hormones are the culprits when it comes to your sudden desire to sleep all the time, though. A subtle shift in your sleep patterns occurs during puberty – the accelerated growth phase you go through during adolescence apparently requires more sleep.
This is partially explained by an increase in levels of melatonin (the sleep hormone) in teens’ blood. When that alarm goes off at 7 am your body thinks it’s still four in the morning.
Many teenagers get too little sleep in the long term, which leaves them with the same symptoms as jet lag.
Young people need nine hours of sleep a night but if you’re like most teens you won’t feel tired until the early hours of the morning.
Researchers say this is normal: teens’ circadian rhythms cause them to become sleepy only at around 2 am and to want to sleep till 11 am.
DrSteveDelport, an endocrinologist and the father of two sons who’ve already been through puberty, says there’s nothing unusual about it. “Puberty is a normal period of growth and should be treated as such.
Talk about puberty
Much of the teen behavior that makes parents want to climb the walls can be prevented if they give their children the correct facts about puberty and talk to them about it regularly.
“Parents wrongly think their children are now grown up and therefore entrust them with responsibilities they’re not ready for,” DrDelport says. (It’s good to know your parents aren’t always right!) “Teenagers need their parents’ support and advice now more than ever to be able to cope with peer pressure and body changes.”
Your self-image changes along with your body during your teens. That’s why you spend hours in front of the mirror and often feel self-conscious. Your parents need to know it’s normal for you to want to be alone a lot during this time.
DrDelport also points out the genders differ markedly when it comes to maturation markers. Teen girls’ fast-growth phase starts when they’re around 12 but with some girls it starts at 10 or even earlier.
In boys the fast growth phase starts around 14 and sometimes even later. When puberty is delayed it can be a serious phenomenon that may require medical help.
“In most cases a large dose of patience is all that’s required but sometimes children need medical attention,” DrDelport says.