At the beginning of his talk, we saw the video of a TED talk by researcher Sara Blakemore, where she explained how brain research has evolved, and how brain development continues throughout adolescence right into the twenties and thirties, with the prefrontal cortex – which is involved in high-level cognitive functions such as decision-making, planning, and inappropriate behaviour, as well as social interaction and understanding other people – being one of the areas of the brain that changes the most. Her research is centred upon the ´social brain´, or the network of brain regions which are used to understand and interact with other people.
In the prefrontal cortex there is a region called the medial prefrontal cortex which is more active in adolescents when they are making social decisions or thinking about others than it is in adults. Studies have shown that this suggests there are differences between the cognitive strategies used by adolescents and adults in decision-making, as well as their respective capacities to put themselves in someone else´s position, in a similar way to how capable they are of taking risks.
In his talk Mr. Sakhardande will discuss the techniques used by the lab, and others, to study brain development and what these tools have shown us about brain development during adolescence. He will also discuss investigations into several behaviours displayed during adolescence, how these behaviours develop and change as individuals progress into adulthood and, where available, what changes in the brain correlate with this change in behaviour. Finally, he will propose a questions that emerge from this research that he believes are relevant for individuals working in the field of youth justice, as Is brain development an appropriate factor to be taken into consideration when making decisions about criminal responsibility? Is adolescent sensitivity to peers appropriately taken into account when sentencing young offenders who have committed crimes? (e.g. committing crimes in groups), and Is adolescent sensitivity to peers appropriately taken into account when punishing/rehabilitating young offenders? (e.g. young offenders institutes).
Ashok Sakhardande is an assistant researcher to Sara Blakemore at the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, studying behavioural models in young people and the factors that influence them. Starting in 2013, he has worked in the Blackmore Lab on a project studying the effect of cognitive training during adolescence and also on the Wellcome Trust funded Mindfulness in Schools Project.