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Peer Review

The mysterious workings of the adolescent brain

by Sarah-Jayne Blakemore


Overall Numeric Rating:

4.75 stars
Content Quality: 4.5 stars
Effectiveness: 4.75 stars
Ease of Use: 5 stars
Reviewed: May 22, 2013 by Psychology
Overview: This is a short (15 minute) TED talk video that provides a neuro-cognitive overview of the unique development of the adolescent brain and its implications for decision-making. The presenter--Sarah-Jayne Blakemore--discusses the changes in the brain that occur during adolescence and into early adulthood. She provides examples in graphics and in hand-held demonstrations of the brain areas that she references. She further discusses the research that has been conducted to explore the adolescent brain.
Type of Material: Video presentation (TED talk)
Recommended Uses: • This video would be an excellent resource to show in class to undergraduate psychology students as a means of generating discussion on the distinguishing features of adolescent cognitive development. While the video is quite understandable, it would be most appropriate for those that have a basic understanding of cognitive neuroscience. • The video also could be posted online as a self-review assignment for students.
Technical Requirements: • As is the case with all TED-Talks, this short video presentation can be played directly in the browser with no downloads or plug-ins required. The computer must have speakers. • The video and its transcript were successfully accessed and viewed on a PC (Windows 7) with IE and Google Chrome 25+.
Identify Major Learning Goals: • Learners will gain an understanding of the neuroscience explaining decision-making in adolescence. Specifically: "Why do teenagers seem so much more impulsive, so much less self-aware than grown-ups?" • Learners will understand how incomplete brain development in adolescents results in some instances of poor decision-making skills, inappropriate social behaviors, and other undesired actions. • Learners will understand how the continued path of brain development, including pruning, gears the adolescent toward a more mature cognitive decision-making capacity.
Target Student Population: Advanced undergraduate students or graduate students interested in psychology, brain and environmental behavior, human development, and adolescence would benefit from this material. The video would be particularly relevant for students taking an Adolescent Development course.
Prerequisite Knowledge or Skills: • A basic understanding of developmental theory and introductory psychology principles would be useful for comprehending and applying this video’s information. In addition, the viewer should have a basic understanding of research methodology (to follow the research examples) and a basic understanding of neural functioning. The video does not provide a background context on neurons or brain functioning, so to understand how adolescents differ from other people (children and adults), it is useful to have a working knowledge of this vocabulary. • Only basic computer usage skills are needed for viewing this video and for downloading the associated transcript.

Evaluation and Observation

Content Quality

Rating: 4.5 stars
Strengths: • The video is clear and easy to follow. The speaker is interesting and very articulate. The presentation goes into sufficient depth about the differences in neuro-cognitive development, but is still explained at a level that can be understood with a basic working vocabulary of brain structure and functioning. • This video touches on a number of important key topics in developmental psychology as they relate to adolescent behavior and physical maturation of the brain. The presenter discusses the material clearly, links content together through her explanations and examples, and ties all content together at the end of the video.
Concerns: • The intellectual quality of the content is excellent. However, this is a video of a live lecture (as is the case with all TED-Talks); as such, the majority of the presentation is simply video of a “talking head.” • Several studies are cited, but it would be helpful to have these citations included at the end of the video as a reference.

Potential Effectiveness as a Teaching Tool

Rating: 4.75 stars
Strengths: • This is a good, in-depth discussion of how brain development impacts decision-making in adolescents. The speaker explains the content in a manner that keeps the viewers' interest and goes into sufficient depth to extend beyond what most textbooks cover. • This video provides a tightly-packed review of the major concepts impacting brain-behavior in adolescents. The speaker presents memorable examples and includes slides/graphics that illustrate the concept well. This resource could be implemented in a number of scenarios in and out of the classroom, and easily could be used in a number of in-class exercises.
Concerns: • This particular style of resource (i.e., TED-talk) is not designed to incorporate prerequisite knowledge or learning objectives. Instructors who use the video as a learning resource will need to develop their own objectives and assignments.

Ease of Use for Both Students and Faculty

Rating: 5 stars
Strengths: • This video can be viewed with one click. Viewers can begin watching with very little background context necessary and can still understand the basic message of the video. In addition to the video, the comments following the video are interesting, engaging and relevant. • This video is easy to navigate through the on-board player controls. A number of visually appealing elements are present in both the layout of the website on TED and also within the video presentation itself (e.g., the speaker provides variation in her talk by incorporating graphics, photos, and hand-held demonstrations). No difficulty was encountered in downloading the video in multiple available quality formats, nor in downloading the transcripts in different languages. It is a nice touch to have these options available.
Concerns: The only suggestion for this site is that the transcripts that are available be made available on-screen during viewing. It is difficult to follow along with the demonstrations that the speaker is presenting when viewing two (2) separate stimuli—the video and the separate transcript. It would be helpful to have the transcription embedded and "time-synched" alongside the video.

Other Issues and Comments: This is a good, relevant, interesting video to gain a better understanding of the adolescent brain. The short length of the video makes it ideal for use in class as a basis of deeper exploration or to begin a critical thinking discussion.