Just to update you on 2012 court decisions with regard to teens and prison since this book went to press:
1) In "Miller vs.Alabama", the Supreme Court ruled 5/4 that states could no longer legislate MANDATORY life sentences without parole for juveniles who commit the most serious crimes like homicide.
2) In practice, this cruel and unusual punishment still is common, even if not required... For instance, as you can see in the NYTimes editorial cited below, in Pennsylvania judges now have a "choice" as to whether to impose this life- without- parole sentence or impose minimum sentences of 35 + years..
Bottom line: Unfortunately..with regard to listening to the developmental science research on frontal lobe development (discussed in my sample chapter 9 on this site)," the more things change... the more they remain the same."
Here is the link:
As, for some reason, my site doesn't let you get to this editorial by just clicking the above, here is the exact ref: Juvenile Injustice, New York Times, Sunday Review, Nov 25,2012 p. 10
Re: Happiness, cohort, and age increases in well being …or..... yet another example of why cross-sectional studies can’t tell us about age changes…and why I’m happy I reached emerging adulthood during the early l970s, rather than now. (See also my “books I’m reading” review of Generation on a Tightrope)
When I discuss that main pitfall of cross-sectional studies— confusing cohort effects with age changes in class- I often use the POSSIBLE example of happiness, saying “ Your cohort of emerging adults might logically be less happy than we baby boomers were at your age because you face such a difficult economy… and have a more jaundiced view of contemporary cultural icons (think Martin Luther King vs Lance Armstrong)” So a study simply comparing different age groups today might give a misleading, overly positive idea of how psychological well being increases over the years. Sadly the following finding suggests I might be right.
Drawing on two 30 + year longitudinal studies (the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging and the National Health and Nutrition study (NHANES), NIA researchers confirmed that indeed, in following groups OVER TIME, life satisfaction does increase as we age (terrific news!). However, there was an interesting cohort effect. The very oldest group in the study—people who came of age during the Great Depression- started out with a lower level of well being, and therefore reached later life less happy, than subsequent cohorts who entered emerging adulthood in more prosperous times. Bottom line: our cohort does affect well being and we cannot infer age changes in happiness from cross-sectional findings,… but, the bad news is that when young people (like today’s young people) face a difficult economy, they may indeed start out with lower levels of life satisfaction, and so sadly be less happy in their 40s or 60s than gen Xers and baby boomers are today EVEN when the economy improves.
The source here is: Sutin and others, The effect of brith Cohort on well-being: the legacy of Economic Hard Times. in the Feb 2013 issue of Psychological Science,
Here is an promising research note related to Alzheimer’s disease:
We know that the hormone leptin is critically involved our bodies’ reaching adulthood – by signaling the hypothalamus to program puberty (see chapter 8 of my book). Other research has implicated the absence of leptin in severe cognitive aging, as in AD patients leptin levels are unusually low.
Taking the next step, among aging RATS, researchers now find compelling evidence that administering leptin helps preserve synaptic plasticity and prevent neural decay. Specifically, giving leptin staved off neural death in the rodents’ hippocampus (an early site of human Alzheimer’s changes). Moreover, this chemical protected the animals’ cortical neurons from developing a host of classic Alzheimer’s changes. Might leptin therapy be a promising new treatment for humans both the early and later stages of AD? Stay tuned as researchers pursue this lead via genuine clinical trials..
Here is the source: Doherty and others (2013). Leptin prevents hippocampal synaptic disruption and neuronal cell death induced by amyloid B, Neurobiology of Aging,34, 226-237
Socioemotional selectivity predicts our social networks shrink in old age (see chapter 13). But how exactly do the total number of family members, friends, and acquaintances we have change as we travel from the teens to later life? To answer this question, researchers surveyed and then melded all of the scholarly findings relating—even tangentially- to this topic over the years. Here's what they found:
As Carstensen’s theory clearly implies as teens and emerging adults our total network of relationships expands; Then, this number stays roughly stable from the mid 20s to the 30s, to continuously decrease after we reach our 40s. But—very important—the force driving these expansions and contractions in “network size” relates to friendships. Family relationship numbers stay relatively stable over the years.
Actually this pattern makes perfect sense. There should be a natural blossoming in the number of friendships we make in our teens and early 20s as we move into the world. Then, as we get married and have children typically during our late 20s and 30s the greater focus on our family lives, might be counter balanced by making other new contacts as we fully move into our careers.
Interestingly, however, as you can see above, this retreat from making new relationships (that is friends) seems to take place far earlier than Carstensen suggests: Over that long period spanning both midlife and old age, the size of our general social network STEADILY SHRINKS, as we increasingly put more value on prioritizing the closest personal relationships in our lives.
(FYI notice also how beautifully this research fits in with Baltes’ concept of selective optimization with compensation.)
Here is the source: Wrzus and others (2013). Social network changes and life events across the lifespan: A meta-analysis, Psychological Bulletin, 139, 53-80
File this finding under the heading: Now, neuroscience confirms the idea we get mellower and more attuned to positive events in later life.
Researchers presented elderly and young woman with images that varied in emotional salience and positivity. As they predicted based on the behavioral research (see chapter 13 of my book), the older people rated the images as both more positive and generally less arousing than the young. But here is the neuro-scientific kicker:
Brain scans strongly supported these ratings! Older adults showed a stronger BOLD FMRI signal when scanning the more positive images in core brain regions coding emotionality (such as the amygdala). Conversely many areas of the brain showed stronger FMRI signals in the young, as the pictures grew more emotionally intense….. with this exception. As the photos became increasingly arousing, activation INCREASED in the older females' frontal cortex, the very brain region involved in inhibiting and modulating our immediate responses!
Could the mellowness we celebrate in old age, be due both to less intense signals getting in as well as more skill at regulating (and dampening down) the emotional valence of the input our brain receives?? Stay tuned for more research probing the fascinating idea, as we explore more deeply the FMRI differences between older and younger brains.
The source here is: Kehoe and others (2013). Healthy aging is associated with increased neural processing of positive valence but attenuated processing of emotional arousal: an FMRI study. Neurobiology of Aging, 34,809-821
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Step by step, the Supreme Court has been trying to reshape the way the American criminal justice system deals with those under the age of 18.
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I wanted to say that I share the viewpoint as that this pattern makes perfect sense. There should be a natural blossoming in the number of friendships we make in our teens and early 20s as we move into the world.
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Thanks so much to everybody who has somehow found this blog!... As you can see I've just revised this website to fit my new post-teaching life...But I'm continuing to update you on studies that have come out since the recent fourth edition of my book was published a few months ago... So check out the next entry for some fascinating new research relating to the American Dream.
It’s a truism that income inequalities are expanding, and societies riches now center on in the top 1%. But is the American dream of upward mobility dead? How likely are children raised in poor families to become upper middle class? Answers come from economist Raz Chetty’s meticulous work.
In a remarkable set of analyses,Chetty and his colleagues focused on kids in lowest fourth of the income distribution during the l980s in every county and region of the U.S. They tracked their chances of attending college or rising to the top fourth of the earnings scale at age 26.
Upward mobility varied greatly depending on where a poor family lived. As a low income child growing up in on the South Side of Chicago (or inner city Memphis, or West Palm Beach), the chance of rising from the bottom to top quarter in earnings was miniscule-- roughly 4 percent. Among poor families raising children in relatively affluent Du Page County (a suburb of Chicago), it was roughly one in five.
The messages: 1) The American dream is alive, provided poor children are fortunate to grow up in the “right” community—places with low segregation, a mix of income levels, stable families, and good schools. 2) In evaluating a low income child’s chance of making it financially, we need to ask that critical question: WHERE does that boy or girl live?
Does having a good teacher matter? The encouraging answer, Chetty’s research suggests, is yes, even in third grade. Can spending even one year (or part of childhood) in a more affluent community make a difference? Yes, but there is a dose- response relationship—more years spent in a middle class milieu ups the chance of going to college and succeeding economically as an emerging adult.
Chetty’s analyses underline my messages in chapter 4: Where a child lives makes a difference cognition- wise even during the preschool years (Although they contradict the findings of a study I described in chapter nine on page 286. It’s better for a poor minority child to move from the inner city to an affluent community, not the reverse!).They firmly support Judith Harris- peer group theory (see chapter 7) and the developmental systems approach. The wider environment has a MAJOR impact children’s lives. They have the encouraging message, that we can potentially make our society more equal by intervening during the childhood years.
But there are important caveats 1) Notice that Chetty explores children’s chances of rising to the top fourth of the income distribution, not making it into the 1%. So his analyses don’t speak to the fact that this very rich group is the one succeeding compared to everyone else. 2) Although they are longitudinal, his studies track a single cohort. What about kids who are born today? If the trend towards middle class jobs evaporating continues, is the window of opportunity for everyone to make a good living slowly slamming shut?
Finally, because he is only tracking children into their 20s, Chetty doesn’t speak to our later economic path. How likely are Americans to fall into poverty during their adult lives?. And relevant to this question, there is a bleaker perspective. In Today's New York Times, I read an Op ed article (Sunday Review March 20th, p.8 Rank and Herschil) suggesting that risk is scarily high—especially for minorities and high school graduates in their 20s.
I’ll be reading this book, called “Closing the American Dream” and reporting on its findings in a subsequent blog. In the meantime, here are some citations and sources:
Chetty, R, and others (2014) Is the United States still a Land of Opportunity? Recent trends in intergenerational mobility, American Economic Review, 104(5): 141-147
Chetty, R & Hendren, N, (May 2015)The impacts of Neighborhoods on Intergenerational Mobility: Childhood exposure effects; and county level estimates
Chetty, R, Freidman,J.H & Rockoff, J.H. Measuring the Impacts of Teachers 11: Teacher value added and student outcomes in adulthood, American Economic Review
Finally, this is Chetty's website: