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Monday, March 14, 2005

As the well-read (a category into which all of our readers fall) know, when the U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled against capital punishment for 16- and 17-year-olds, Justice Antonin Scalia in his dissent attacked the American Psychological Association for filing an amicus brief

arguing that impulsiveness, susceptibility to peer pressure, and even physically underdeveloped brains made adolescents less culpable for their actions than legal adults. ''At ages 16 and 17,'' the brief emphatically stated, ''adolescents, as a group, are not yet mature in ways that affect their decision-making.''
Scalia compared this to an amicus brief that the APA filed in a 1990 case:

...which concerned whether teenagers had to get parental permission for an abortion. [In this case], an APA brief spoke of a ''revolution in rationality'' that occurs early in the teenage years. ''[B]y middle adolescence (age 14-15),'' that brief stated, ''young people develop abilities similar to adults in reasoning about moral dilemmas, [and] understanding social rules and laws.''
The Boston Globe interviewed a psychologist who defends the APA. This psychologist says that teenagers are as morally mature as adults in some ways--the ways that matter when they are asked to decide what to do when pregnant--but not in other ways--the ways that are relevant when they are in an emotionally wraught situation that might lead to their murdering someone:

For example, Steinberg cited a forthcoming study of his own in which 13- to 16-year-olds, college undergraduates, and adults (average age 37) played a videogame that simulated ordinary driving. The subjects were told to travel as many miles as possible while obeying traffic rules. When alone, members of all three groups made roughly the same decisions. But when some subjects were joined by two friends, the adolescents and undergraduates (but not the adults) started running reds, gunning it through yellows, and crashing more often. Abortion decisions, Steinberg asserts, are made in reflective circumstances, with a doctor's guidance, whereas the decision to commit a crime is usually a quick, emotionally driven one that often takes place under peer pressure.
I know that all of my readers who have had abortions are either snorting bitterly or laughing in a black-humorish way right now.

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