In its attempts to humanize Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the suspected younger bomber in the Boston Marathon attacks, ABC News has now run a piece blaming Dzhokhar’s brain biology. Noting that teenagers have underdeveloped critical thinking skills and overdeveloped emotional centers, ABC News reported:
Teenage behavior, as every parent knows, is marked by impulsiveness and the inability to see the consequences of actions.
Now, science has confirmed that the human brain is not fully developed until the age of 25. The brain develops from back to front – from the emotional limbic system first to the rational frontal precortex last.
While Breitbart News editor John Nolte is quoted in the ABC News piece criticizing the minimization of evil by those who blame biology, the column suggests that such a perspective is unscientific:
psychiatrists … said that a 19-year-old like Dzhokhar Tsarnaev would have “difficulty with executive functioning, assessing risk and understanding the consequences of behavior.” At 26, Tamerlan, despite his alleged terrorist motives, was “fully matured and [his brain] myelinated.” Myelination is the process by which a fatty layer, called myelin, accumulates around nerve cells. It is a key to healthy brain development. Teenagers are particularly vulnerable to the influences of others because of the immaturity of the ventromedial prefrontal cortex. That is the part of the brain where social consequences of actions are weighed, where planning and forming of strategies, as well as inhibiting behaviors, are rooted.
Finally, ABC News quotes Jess Payne, director of undergraduate education at Corban University in Oregon:
Whether Dzhokhar Tsarnaev deserves to face the death penalty if he is convicted of the Boston Marathon bombings is a “tough question to answer,” according to Payne.
“I can’t say yes or no. You have to look at the underlying reasons why it happened,” he said. “Does it make sense to kill mentally disturbed people? That’s the question that needs to be answered. You may have ADD or depression, but you cannot use it as a crutch.”
ABC News left unexplored why the vast majority of teenagers do not set down bombs next to eight-year-old children. ABC News also failed to ask why teenagers should be treated as fully developed decisionmakers with regard to social issues, but not crime.
Ben Shapiro is Editor-At-Large of Breitbart News and author of the New York Times bestseller “Bullies: How the Left’s Culture of Fear and Intimidation Silences America” (Threshold Editions, January 8, 2013).