Neuroeconomics (earlier discussed here) is one of the most promising sources of excuses for self-appointed experts to claim they know more about people's lives than the people living them. The most plausible of those excuses (that people use the more rational part of the brain when agreeing with experts) has just disappeared.
It looks like the demographic group most closely associated with really dumb decisions uses more of the brain while making them:
By the standards of neuroeconomics, clearly adolescents are superior at making decisions. The more radical neuroeconomists might even want to make self-destructive behavior compulsory.
Surprisingly, behavioral scientists have actually done these interviews with hundreds of American adolescents. In order to explore really stupid behavior, they have asked what seem to be really stupid questions: Is it a good thing to set your hair on fire? Drink Drano? Go swimming where sharks swim?
The results are fascinating, and unsettling. While teenagers are just as likely as adults to get the answer right (the correct answer is “No”), teens actually have to mull the question over momentarily before they answer. As summarized by psychologists Valerie Reyna of Cornell and Frank Farley of Temple in the current issue of the journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest, teenagers take a split second longer than adults to reject such patently inane behaviors. And more of the teenage brain lights up, suggesting that they are actually going through some kind of deliberative calculation before concluding what the rest of us assume is obvious.
Maybe that explains the two year dumb-off …