Understanding the Relationship Between Brain Development and Offending Behaviour

McEwan, Donna (2017) Understanding the Relationship Between Brain Development and Offending Behaviour. University of Strathclyde, Glasgow.

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The brain is the most complex organ in the human body and is responsible for controlling all of the body’s functions. The brain consists of nerve cells, which interact with the rest of the body through the spinal cord and nervous system. In the early years of life more than 1 million new neural connections form every second (Harvard, 2009). This overabundance of neural connections are repeatedly pruned and refined, creating space for developing new pathways and strengthening the ones that are used (use it or lose it). Brain development begins before birth and continues into adulthood and the interactions between genes and experiences are what shape the developing brain. However, it is the initial building blocks within the brain that provide the foundations for future learning, thinking and reasoning, social and emotional behaviour and health. Adolescence is now recognised as a critical period in brain development and an opportunity for new learning. Subsequently, research evidences that the brain is not fully mature until mid-20s and that psychosocial and cognitive development continues up to age 25 and possibly even beyond. For this reason, child and youth justice rationale and functions should extend to the young adult age group because of their psychosocial immaturity. Developmental changes in the brain occur sequentially and progressively from the back of the brain (cerebellum), with the frontal lobe (particularly frontal cortex) being the last to develop. The frontal lobe is where the executive functioning (working memory, cognitive flexibility and inhibitory control) takes place, hence why those executive functions are slowest to fully mature. This is central to understanding the time it takes for children and young people to shift more consistently away from those emotive-driven responses to more rational and considered judgements, which are the mark of adult thinking.