Star Trek and the Teenage Brain

Star Trek The Original Series's  "Spock's Brain"

It’s rare for me to find other people talking about psychology and science fiction on the internet. But today I read an article about Star Trek and the teenage brain from a major news source — NPR.

The article explores some interesting research. Psychologist Laurence Steinberg had teenagers complete a driving task either alone or with their peers. Individually, teenagers drove just as cautiously as adults. But when other teenagers were in the car, teens were twice as risky. 

How do we make sense of this? The teenage brain is still growing and it gains an accelerator before it fully develops a brake (something I discuss in the psychology of Superman). That makes it much more vulnerable to the influence of other people, especially peers.

Here’s an excerpt from the article: 

The prefrontal cortex is our voice of reason. B.J. Casey, a neuroscientist at Weill Cornell Medical College, likens it to Mr. Spock from Star Trek, coldly calculating a life’s worth of cost-benefit analyses. 

Casey’s analogy doesn’t stop there. To her, Captain Kirk is the limbic system — the emotional center of the brain that’s always on the lookout for threats and rewards. When it spots either, it sends a message to the prefrontal cortex. Because the limbic system can’t make sense of these things on its own. It needs the prefrontal cortex.

Kirk needs Spock.

A logically conclusion, though I’ve always found Leonard “Bones” McCoy to be the emotional one on Star Trek. Kirk is a combination of the two, the ethos to the logos and pathos of Spock and Bones. In other words, Kirk is a fully developed adult brain. 

Check out the full article for more.