Controversy: three papers on the psychological maturity of adolescents relating to their ability to make reproductive decisions

American Psychologist, Vol. 64, No. 7, pg. 583-594; American Psychologist, Vol. 64, No. 7, pg. 595-600; American Psychologist, Vol. 64, No. 7, pg. 601-604.

 

Are Adolescents Less Mature Than Adults? Minors' Access to Abortion, the Juvenile Death Penalty, and the Alleged APA “Flip-Flop”

 Laurence Steinberg, Elizabeth Cauffman, Jennifer Woolard, Sandra Graham and Marie Banich

The American Psychological Association's (APA's) stance on the psychological maturity of adolescents has been criticized as inconsistent. In its Supreme Court amicus brief in Roper v. Simmons (2005), which abolished the juvenile death penalty, APA described adolescents as developmentally immature. In its amicus brief in Hodgson v. Minnesota (1990), however, which upheld adolescents' right to seek an abortion without parental involvement, APA argued that adolescents are as mature as adults. The authors present evidence that adolescents demonstrate adult levels of cognitive capability earlier than they evince emotional and social maturity. On the basis of this research, the authors argue that it is entirely reasonable to assert that adolescents possess the necessary skills to make an informed choice about terminating a pregnancy but are nevertheless less mature than adults in ways that mitigate criminal responsibility. The notion that a single line can be drawn between adolescence and adulthood for different purposes under the law is at odds with developmental science. Drawing age boundaries on the basis of developmental research cannot be done sensibly without a careful and nuanced consideration of the particular demands placed on the individual for “adult-like” maturity in different domains of functioning.

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Narrow Assessments Misrepresent Development and Misguide Policy: Comment on Steinberg, Cauffman, Woolard, Graham, and Banich (2009)

Kurt W. Fischer, Zachary Stein and Katie Heikkinen

Intellectual and psychosocial functioning develop along complex learning pathways. Steinberg, Cauffman, Woolard, Graham, and Banich (2009) measured these two classes of abilities with narrow, biased assessments that captured only a segment of each pathway and created misleading age patterns based on ceiling and floor effects. It is a simple matter to shift the assessments to produce the opposite pattern, with cognitive abilities appearing to develop well into adulthood and psychosocial abilities appearing to stop developing at age 16. Their measures also lacked a realistic connection to the lived behaviors of adolescents, abstracting too far from messy realities and thus lacking ecological validity and the nuanced portrait that the authors called for. A drastically different approach to assessing development is required that (a) includes the full age-related range of relevant abilities instead of a truncated set and (b) examines the variability and contextual dependence of abilities relevant to the topics of murder and abortion.

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Reconciling the Complexity of Human Development With the Reality of Legal Policy: Reply to Fischer, Stein, and Heikkinen (2009) 

 Laurence Steinberg, Elizabeth Cauffman, Jennifer Woolard, Sandra Graham and Marie Banich

The authors respond to both the general and specific concerns raised in Fischer, Stein, and Heikkinen's (2009) commentary on their article (Steinberg, Cauffman, Woolard, Graham, & Banich, 2009), in which they drew on studies of adolescent development to justify the American Psychological Association's positions in two Supreme Court cases involving the construction of legal age boundaries. In response to Fischer et al.'s general concern that the construction of bright-line age boundaries is inconsistent with the fact that development is multifaceted, variable across individuals, and contextually conditioned, the authors argue that the only logical alternative suggested by that perspective is impractical and unhelpful in a legal context. In response to Fischer et al.'s specific concerns that their conclusion about the differential timetables of cognitive and psychosocial maturity is merely an artifact of the variables, measures, and methods they used, the authors argue that, unlike the alternatives suggested by Fischer et al., their choices are aligned with the specific capacities under consideration in the two cases. The authors reaffirm their position that there is considerable empirical evidence that adolescents demonstrate adult levels of cognitive capability several years before they evince adult levels of psychosocial maturity.

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(Something interesting I found)Posted: Thursday, January 07, 2010 by nick stock
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