A Tip From the Psychology Department: Don’t Believe Everything You Read
Psychology is the scientific study of the human mind and its functions. At Huntington University, we like to push beyond given information and challenge our minds to think about other options. In doing this, we develop our minds to think critically. This brain function is used often in the Department of Psychology. Need an example that you can’t believe every headline you read? Check this out:
In 2015, U.S. News and World Report published a report on its website entitled, “Is Brain Wiring to Blame for Some Teens' Bad Behavior?” (Dallas, 2015). You may have heard at some point in your life that during adolescence, your brain is not fully developed, and you are expected to make stupid decisions. This report debates if this is true by describing the results of an analysis of 13 studies looking at teens with and without serious behavior problems. It turns out that the teens with behavior problems had brains that were different than the teens without behavior problems. Specifically, they didn’t have as much gray matter in some key areas.
So, are these teens the unfortunate victims of faulty brains? That’s what the headline seems to state, though I doubt that even the researchers themselves would go that far. Here’s where your critical thinking skills can help you make smart decisions in life: When you read, ask yourself, “Does X really cause Y?” In this case, did messed up brains actually cause teens to have behavior issues, or could there be another possible explanation for what the scientists found? Take a minute to think of any other possibilities.
Did you come up with any? Try this one: What if repeatedly engaging in antisocial behavior changes the wiring in your brain? In other words, is it possible that our behavior patterns might shape our brains? What if teens with behavior problems also had something else in common: What if they came from homes with lots of conflict? If they didn’t learn how to manage conflict at home, is it possible that this lack of learning could’ve changed their brains? Wouldn’t it be useful to know if the behavior-problem teens had normal brains at five years old? What about at eight years old?
I hope you’re starting to get the picture. The study described in the article is perfectly legitimate and helpful. However, sometimes headlines can be misleading. Maybe it’s true that you can blame poor behavior on defective brain wiring, but maybe there’s something else going on. It might feel good to get a quick and easy answer by reading a headline, but it almost always worth the effort to investigate further.
If you like studying human behavior and thinking deeply about psychological issues like this one, a psychology degree might be for you! For more information on how you can get started in psychology, check out HU’s Department of Psychology.
Dallas, M. E. (2015, December 9). Is brain wiring to blame for some teens' bad behavior?. U. S. News and World Report.