Do you ever outgrow adolescence? (Yes. Yes you do)

6a0105369e3ea1970b0147e0fdc399970b pi - Do you ever outgrow adolescence? (Yes. Yes you do) According to Newsweek, you never escape high school.

The magazine reports that recent studies – based on MRI scans – have concluded that teenage brains are in a crucial developmental phase, and what happens to you as a teenager will in large part determine the rest of your life.

“This emerging research,” wrote Russ Juskalian, “sheds light not only on why teenagers act the way they do, but how the experiences of adolescence—from rejection to binge drinking—can affect who we become as adults, how we handle stress, and the way we bond with others.”

Naturally we’re all very impressed.  This research telling us that teenage years are crucial to development is surely the most important research on personality since the research telling us that the years from 0-3 are a crucial to development and determine what happens to you for the rest of your life. 

Also, there’s the research telling us that the brains of people in middle age are still developing and that middle aged people can change their lives and develop in wholly new ways. 

And – let’s not forget – the research telling us that the brains of senior citizens are still developing and that seniors can change fundamentally … affecting who they are for the rest of their lives. 

So … if I get the research right … the years when you are a child, an adolescent, an adult, and senior are all crucial developmental phases that explain who you are for the rest of your life.  Is that it?

Did we really need brain scans to tell us that?

Of course not – unless you believe that the only things real are quantifiable, in which can you absolutely needed to measure neural connections and neuron firings in order to know that adolescence leaves and impression and that old people can still make meaningful choices about their lives. 

If you don’t believe anything about personality unless you have quantifiable data in front of you then you absolutely need this kind of research, but your understanding of human beings is all the poorer for it. 

Human beings, and human personality, exist in a state of constant choice:  it is our lot in life, as Satre said, to be “condemned to freedom.”  Observers of the human condition – like humanistic psychologists – have always understood that this applies to every step of life.  Young children make choices, senior citizens make choices, and our lives and personalities follow suit.  We are the sum of these choices, even as we make new ones. We are constantly changing, but also the same people we were before. 

Did scientists every really think that this didn’t apply to old people or adolescents? 

Yes they did– and it’s absurd.                                      

It’s not right to discourage MRI brain research (hey, it’s pretty cool to see a live brain in action), but it is important to realize that if you want to study personality you have to doing it by dealing with actual people and not just their brains.  There’s a reason much of the recent brain research can be filed under “things we’ve known for thousands of years but science has just ‘proven’” – and that is that you can’t study the mind just by looking at the brain.  Or anything else.  The mind may only be observable phenomenologically, but those who study it that way know it best.

A humanistic approach to personality, one that takes the human condition and existential choice into account, doesn’t use brain scans – but it fits the facts better. 


— Benjamin Wachs


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