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Fischer Commentary Featured in American Psychologist

Professor Kurt Fischer and doctoral students Zachery Stein, Ed.M.'06, and Katie Heikkinen, Ed.M.'07, were featured in the October 2009 issue of American Psychologist criticizing the journal 's lead article for its too narrow assessment of adolescents' developing abilities.

Fischer, Stein, and Heikkinen's commentary, "Narrow Assessments Misrepresent Development and Misguide Policy," explored how intellectual and psychosocial functioning develop along learning pathways that extend well into adulthood.

The article which prompted the response, "Are Adolescents Less Mature than Adults?" maintained that the law is at odds with developmental science in treating adolescent abilities as developing in the same way for cognitive and social abilities, particularly with regard to access to abortion and the juvenile death penalty for murder. The authors concluded from a research study that adolescents exhibit adult levels of cognitive capability much earlier than they do for emotional or social capability. In turn, according to the authors, adolescents possess the necessary skills to make an informed choice about terminating a pregnancy but are still less mature than adults in ways that mitigate criminal responsibility.

But this could not be farther from the truth, according to Fischer, Stein, and Heikkinen. People continue to develop much later than the authors of the initial article acknowledge, through adolescence well into adulthood. Moreover, the authors "oversimplified development by dividing it into two categories," Fischer said, and then used a narrow set of tasks to measure "capabilities and contexts" in the two categories. Their narrow choices biased the results to fit their hypothesis, failing to assess the full range of capabilities.

Fischer was invited to comment on the initial article by American Psychologist editors and he asked Stein and Heikkinen to join in the response. "This information is so relevant to legal policies around young people's responsibilities for crimes," Fischer added. "Unfortunately the authors chose narrow measures that do not represent the true range of cognitive and social capacities, and thus biased the results to support what they predicted. Developing capacities do not fit neatly into legal categories the way that the authors claim."


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