Jan 3, 2011

AP Psychology is the only reason I'm good at debate

By Guest-Blogger Bri Castellini

Jim has granted me the privilege of occasionally guest blogging on the topics of LD, so to build myself up as an authority on the subject, I thought I'd just introduce myself a bit. My name is Bri, and I am a college freshman. I debated in both Public Forum and Lincoln Douglas during high school for the two years I competed, and am now a college IPDA debater. I went to Nationals in Kansas City last summer as the tournament champion for Congress (blah, I know), and qualified as well in Public Forum, but due to partner issues we forfeited to the next team. I also competed in poetry, and am now learning informative speaking, prose, and duo. But I've always been foremost a debate person, so don't worry.

For my first blog post on the subject of the latest topic, (Resolved: In the United States, juveniles charged with violent felonies ought to be treated as adults in the criminal justice system), I thought I'd examine the psychological implications. This will be a strongly Neg-sided post, but not to worry, I'll get to AFF points in other posts (and Jim has already discussed them as well).

The first thing we need to talk about is the frontal lobe of your brain, specifically the pre-frontal cortex. This part of your brain “allows us to prioritize thoughts, imagine, think in the abstract, anticipate consequences, plan, and control impulses.” (American Bar Association, January 2004) Basically, it controls our judgments and decision-making processes.

The pre-frontal cortex is the last part of our brains to fully develop, sometimes lasting into our early 20s. It's for this reason that you're not considered mature enough to consume alcohol, vote, and watch inappropriate movies before certain ages. So why not extend this to juvenile violent felony charges?

“Just because they're physically mature, they may not appreciate the consequences or weigh information the same way as adults do. So, [although] somebody looks physically mature, their brain may in fact not be mature.”- Deborah Yurgelun-Todd, PhD (She's part of the Harvard University Medical School, and she has a PhD. I love those sources, don't you??)

So from just this brain perspective, you could argue that it's as morally unfair to treat a minor as an adult as it is to treat a mentally handicapped person as one. The fact is, their mental faculties aren't fully developed yet, so how can we blame them from acting upon impulses they can't fully understand or control yet?

But let's move on to hormones, everyone's favorite middle school memory. Testosterone, the hormone connected to aggression (and most violent crimes), increases tenfold in adolescent boys. Ouch. Even taking certain womanly changes into account, I'd rather not have to deal with an overabundance of aggressive hormones forcing their way to the surface in a very small length of time. I'm violent enough as it is. Add this to the mood-swings associated with both genders during puberty, and you've got a full fledged biological battle going on within just about every adolescent. They can't be held responsible for their actions, at least not entirely. Treating them as adults will just solidify their growing (and entirely natural) contempt for authority.

Essentially, what you can take away from this is that contrary to really anything AFF will say, juveniles DO NOT have the biological or the psychological faculties to make informed, rational, and competent decisions, consistently, especially when they're under stress or are having an internal hormone war.


Bri Castellini blogs frequently at Bri's Own World, and posts way too frequently on Twitter.


Anonymous said...

thanks a lot for the post! i was wondering if you could make a post on potential aff and neg arguments that we might expect on this topic. since this topic has been done a few years ago. I'm having some trouble making a framework for cases so that would help a lot :D

Avivah said...

Thanks for this post, Bri! I really like the neg's statistical benefits that you point out. Thanks for your opinion:)

James said...

Thank you for these facts. They are going to greatly help my struggling Neg case.

Bri said...

@anonymous: That shall be my next research assignment! I'll also try and hunt down some good generic blocks.

@Avivah: Thanks for the cookies!

@James: You are entirely welcome. Interesting that you're struggling with the Neg side... from my initial research this seems to be a fairly Neg-sided debate.

Sara said...

do you have any cards for aff? i can't find anyone who specifically says age is not a determining factor of mental maturity.

IdahoDebater said...

Sara, see here: http://faculty.plts.edu/gpence/html/kohlberg.htm

There's support that full moral accountability doesn't happen until later.

IdahoDebater said...

In this case, I think later isn't 16.

IdahoDebater said...


I'm really great at typing today.. >..<

Anonymous said...

I've been thinking a lot about this post and although I plan on using the psychological impacts a lot, I cannot help but think there will be a counter argument by aff that what about the 18, 19, 20 year olds that are already being treated as adults and they may not be matured or what not. How would I defend this sort of thing?

Bri said...

@Anonymous While it's a valid point, you're not advocating for changing the status quo. That argument is invalid because it's not topical. You're specifically arguing that kids under the age of 18 don't have the mental faculties to be tried as adults. 18 and 19 and 20 year olds that may not have the mental faculties are beside the point, because they are not what the resolution pertains to.

Rainey said...

Yet in the same way that the pre frontal cortex is developing during the teen years, there is also a "Use it or Lose it" policy that determines the life of brain cells. Those we use live, but those we don't die. This is to be said for all parts of the brain, frontal cortex included. So, theoretically, a teen that grew up on the streets, having to raise his family on his own, look out for himself, and keep sane at the same time, while more prone to becoming violent, also had to use more brain cells in his few years. This increased the rate of his development. So how are we supposed to be able to differentiate between this youngster and the 35 year old that hasn't had to do anything for himself all his life?