The gift and the trap: working the "Teen Brain" into our concept of youth

H. Sercombe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Citations (Scopus)


Progressive developments in scanning technologies over the last decade have led to a surge of new research into the structure and function of the brain and into differences between the brains of teenagers and other adults. This work has not been free of controversy, notably around the question of deficits in the capacity of young people concerning risk-taking behavior. In a previous article, Michael Males mounted a challenge to this body of work, arguing that it exaggerated the propensity of young people to take risks and ignored the impact of external contextual and sociological factors. In responding to Males's article, this article not only supports his concern about deficit models of adolescence but also explores the way that the new brain science takes us beyond the century-old binary between biological determinism and social constructionism. It calls for renewed scholarly effort to develop theory and discourse that will allow us to think about young people's responses in terms of the interaction between biology, experience and social context, and individual agency.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)31-47
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Adolescent Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2010


  • adolescents
  • brain development
  • theories
  • social policy
  • neuroscience
  • risk taking
  • maturity
  • responsibility
  • biological determinism
  • social constructionism


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