Can Science Measure True Maturity?— First-year columnist weighs in

Immaturity can be infuriating. Students walking into their dorm room shouldn’t be treated to the sight of their roommate dancing around because he defeated Bowser for the hundredth time. Loud rap music at one in the morning is not conducive to a good nights sleep either. Immaturity is integral in college life; no one is immune from it. Whether in the frat houses or the dorm rooms, stupid antics will find you. If we cannot stop immaturity, can we measure it?

Well, that is where our understanding of human behavior runs into the wall. Scientists have recently attempted to measure maturity, but with inconclusive results. During this recent study conducted by Nico U.F. Dosenbach and his team, 238 subjects were positioned in an MRI machine and scanned for brain pattern and function. Each individual spent five minutes in the machine and was asked a series of simple questions. What scientists found was a correlation between brain maturity and a distribution of regional functionality.

What does that mean and does it imply an obvious line between maturity and immaturity? When someone acts immature, is it possible to know if he actually is? No, of course not. One brain scan will not be able to reveal anything more than speaking to a person one on one. Holger Elischberger, professor of neuroscience at Albion would agree.

“I don’t think anybody, neuroscientist or psychologist, would be comfortable defining some type of gold standard or peak of maturity to measure everything against.” Dr. Elischberger stated that maturity is a product of experience and interaction with the world around us. How we interact with our surroundings provides us with the ability to develop physiologically as our brain develops psychologically.

Maturity is hard to pin down from one person to another. Just as it is impossible to know how tall someone should be at a given age, it is also impossible to know the maturity of an individual. Maturity is not solely based on age, intelligence, or any other factor. A range of possibilities or an average must be satisfying.

Many absurd proposals hit the print and the airwaves after the study about possible applications including setting a maturity level for drinking. Will throwing out the age of twenty-one for a brain scan be more sufficient? Under this regulation a twenty-one year old could be deemed unable to drink simply because an MRI has deemed it so. Furthermore, this seems to be analogous to asking the question, “How tall should you have to be to ride the rollercoaster?” It is easier to assign an arbitrary number to brain development, no doubts, but it is simply not as straightforward.

Perhaps this suggestion of maturity is simply “undeveloped”. “The idea of maturity is vague,” says Dr. Elischberger and I have to agree. How can we understand something without knowing its implications? Situations can get rocky if when we apply averages to a whole.

So what information can be gleaned from this study? Nothing. Experiments always have useful applications in their respective fields, but very rarely will they be commercially useful. This simply is not satisfying evidence. Science is a slow and contemplative process that should not jump to conclusions. In response, we need to be patient but attentive to new discoveries and practices, even if you sleep with earplugs for now.



1 Comment

  1. Great article! As an alum doing cognitive science research, it is true that much of the literature on maturity as it refers to the human brain is pretty vague, although different avenues of science research are exploring this concept of individual maturity in a broader perspective. For example, how do you exactly isolate and look at maturity in intelligence exclusive from social maturity? Intelligence, as we understand it, is guided by multiple biological as well as environmental factors. It can fluctuate over time, and isn’t exactly static once you turn 18, or 21, or even 40. Brain imaging as well as other neuroscience research is also showing that our neural connectivity can still be very flexible and elastic as we get older. Age is important, however it isn’t the end all, be all. It will be interesting to see in the next decade or so what research on maturity will reveal as scientific research technology expands.

    It would be great to see science articles become a recurring fixture of the Pleiad!

    Christina Poulin ’09

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