Brains on trial – is our biology responsible for our behaviour?

This month we are taking a look at the theory behind the biological level of analysis, that there is a strong correlation, and in some cases a cause-and effect relationship, between our brain structure and activity and our behaviour.  The title of my blog post comes from an exciting site called “Brains on Trial” that it is definitely worth visiting, if only for the cool videos it contains. The title of the site refers to the theories that it is currently exploring, that our brains can be held directly responsible, at least in part, for much of our behaviour. One particularly interesting section discusses the teenage brain and whether it is significantly different from the adult brain. This is something that you, as 17 and 18 year-old IB Diploma students, might find interesting.

        Fluorescent adolescence?

Photo Kitro Cahan (photo in the public domain)

Photo Kitra Cahana (photo in the public domain)

The Teenage Brain

In an article published in the National Geographic in October 2011, B. J. Casey, a neuroscientist at Weill Cornell Medical College who has spent nearly a decade applying brain and genetic studies to our understanding of adolescence, stated “We’re so used to seeing adolescence as a problem. But the more we learn about what really makes this period unique, the more adolescence starts to seem like a highly functional, even adaptive period. It’s exactly what you need to do the things you have to do then.”

He argues that, using evolutionary theory, that adolescence is an adaptive period and that the risk-taking associated with such a time does not contradict the fact that it is also a time of great cognitive development. So have a read, and celebrate being a teenager.


In this TED talk, cognitive neuroscientist Sarah-Jayne Blakemore compares the prefrontal cortex in adolescents to that of adults, to  how typically “teenage” behaviour is caused by the growing and developing brain. Plenty here to make you consider the arguments of the BLOA in a new light.

A TOK link for you to think about – the language of all of this research is to talk of “the brain” as if it is a separate entity from the body. This dualism goes back a long way through history. (Think Descartes). If the brain is responsible for behaviour, yet it is our brains we are talking about, then surely we are the responsible ones?





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