Big Think Interview With Laurence Steinberg
Laurence Steinberg is the Distinguished University Professor of Psychology at Temple University. An internationally renowned expert on psychological development during adolescence, he is the author of more than 250 articles and essays on growth and development during the teenage years, and the author or editor of eleven books, including Adolescence the leading college textbook on adolescent development. A graduate of Vassar College and Cornell University, he was named as the first recipient of the Klaus J. Jacobs Research Prize in 2009, one of the largest prizes ever awarded to a social scientist, for his contributions to improving the lives of young people and their families.
Laurence Steinberg: I'm Laurence Steinberg, professor of psychology at Temple University.
Question: Has the American juvenile justice system become more punitive over the last couple decades?
Laurence Steinberg: Sure. I mean, in virtually every state across the country, provisions have been made to get tougher on kids. That means being tougher on how they're sentenced in the juvenile system. It also means sentencing more than in the adult system, where they serve time often in adult facilities.
Question: What factors have contributed to this trend?
Laurence Steinberg: Well, the trend really began about 10 or 15 years ago, and it was in response to a dramatic increase in crime. Now, the increase was not just among teenagers; it was also among adults. But many politicians began spouting a kind of get-tough rhetoric, saying that the juvenile justice system was not sanctioning kids severely enough and that we needed to take stronger measures in order to prevent kids from offending.
Question: Does this approach to juvenile justice reflect a misunderstanding of adolescent psychology?
Laurence Steinberg: I think it does, in a couple of ways. The first is that it assumes that kids are going to be deterred by harsh punishments. And surprisingly, they're not. So studies show that kids coming out of adult prisons are just as likely, in fact even more likely, to reoffend than kids who have committed comparable crimes but are coming out of juvenile facilities. In our own research we have found that incarcerating kids for longer periods of time gains you no benefit over incarcerating them for shorter periods of time. So kids are different from adults in some very important ways, and we need to think about how to hold them accountable and punish them and rehabilitate them in ways that are different than we would do with adults.
Question: What's the chief cognitive difference between the brains of adolescents and adults?
Laurence Steinberg: Well, the brain undergoes significant maturation during the adolescent years, and there's two main features that are important here. The first is that adolescents have a much more active reward system than adults do, so things feel better to them, and that makes them more likely to engage in sensation seeking and novelty seeking. I often joke and say that things will never feel as good again during adulthood as they did when we were teenagers, which is sort of a sad thing, I guess. But this is what propels lots of kids into risky and reckless behavior -- that focus on what reward am I going to get from doing this? So that's one important difference. The second important difference has to do with what we might think of as the braking system of the brain, the region and system of the brain that's important for things like impulse control, for planning ahead, for weighing the costs and benefits of a decision. That is still undergoing significant maturation during adolescence, and it doesn't really reach adult maturity until the mid-20s.
Questions: Can we speak of criminal intent in an adolescent?
Laurence Steinberg: Sure, we can speak of criminal intent in an adolescent. So the question really, when an adolescent commits a crime, is never did he know right from wrong? Learning right from wrong is something that occurs very, very early in life. I mean, my dogs know the difference between right and wrong. So that's a pretty primitive thing. The issue really has to do with adolescents' ability to control their behavior in a way that's consistent with their understanding of what's right and wrong. A lot of adolescent criminal behavior is impulsive; it's not premeditate. It's done in a group; our own research has focused a lot on how group dynamics change decision making and risk taking during adolescence. And it's often sort of a spontaneous behavior, not something that's planned out and thought through.
Question: How should we change the juvenile justice system?
Laurence Steinberg: I think there are a couple of changes that would make a big difference. The first, and I think most important, is that we don't use, generally speaking, the kinds of interventions and treatments that have scientifically proven to be effective and cost-effective. We commissioned a study when I was working on this project for the MacArthur Foundation in which we looked at what works for juvenile offenders. And there's good news and bad news. The good news is that there are programs and interventions that work; so family-based programs tend to be pretty effective in reducing recidivism. The bad news is that only about 5 percent of juvenile offenders who are eligible to be in these kinds of programs get that kind of treatment. So the first change that we need to make is to really move toward evidence-based practices within the juvenile justice system. When people look at the data and they say, look at this high recidivism rate; obviously nothing works -- well, that's not how I read the data. What I read the data as saying is that we don't use the things that work, and that's why the juvenile justice system has the track record that it does. So that's one important change.
A second change is, we need to keep kids from penetrating more deeply into the system than they need to penetrate. So we don't need to lock up as many kids as we lock up. We lock up a lot of kids for nonviolent offending. We don't need to transfer as many kids to the adult system as we do. We transfer a lot of kids who are first-time offenders; we transfer a lot of kids who are nonviolent offenders. So one of our recommendations in our book, Rethinking Juvenile Justice, is that we limit the eligibility for transfer to the adult system to violent repeat offenders who are at least 15 years old. That would significantly diminish the number of kids that are transferred into the adult system.
And then the third change is to recognize that a lot of kids in the juvenile justice system have significant mental health problems. A lot of them have substance abuse problems. A lot of them suffer from psychiatric disorders like PTSD or depression. And if we don't get those kids services, when they come of the justice system they're going to be likely to offend again because many times their offending is related to the mental illnesses that they have. So substance abuse is a perfect example. In our studies we find that if you give juvenile offenders with substance abuse problems substance abuse treatment, they're less likely to offend, even though you haven't done anything directly to address the offending. But by diminishing their addiction, or by eliminating it, or by controlling it, you're engaging in crime control.
Question: How would a family-based prevention program work?
Laurence Steinberg: Okay, so a family-based program, something like functional family therapy, would take place in the community, so we wouldn't incarcerate the juvenile. We would work with the family, with the parents or the guardians, to improve the quality of their parenting, which has a big -- so we would work with the family or the guardians in the community to improve the quality of the parenting that the juvenile gets, because parenting and bad parenting has been shown to be related to juvenile offending. We would try to strengthen the links between the family and the school, because being engaged in school is also a protection against juvenile offending. And we would work with the adolescent as well. The idea here is that you can't just change the kid; you have to change the context that the kid lives in. And that's the logic behind these family-based interventions.
Question: What is bad parenting?
Laurence Steinberg: So when I say bad parenting, I mean parenting that is excessively harsh, parenting that is inconsistent, or parenting that is excessively permissive. And lots of times kids get all three of those things together. So their parents will swing from being really, really harsh and punitive to not even caring, and being what most of us would consider to be negligent. And so those three things, the harshness, the permissiveness and the inconsistency, all have been shown to contribute to antisocial behavior during adolescence.
Question: Can you explain your study into racial associations?
Laurence Steinberg: Our group did a really interesting study of this. We brought people into the lab, and in this experiment one sample were police officers and one sample were probation officers. We found the same thing in each sample. So we bring them into the lab and we say, we're going to ask you to read through this hypothetical discussion of a crime. And the person is going to be given a couple of paragraph to read that describe a crime but that don't have any information about the perpetrator's race. In each case it's a juvenile. Now, we tell you that before you read this we want you to do an exercise to kind of clear your mind. And we ask you to look at a computer and to tell us whether a point of light that you're going to see flashing is on the right side or the left side of the screen.
Now, in reality it's not a point of light; it's a word. But it's flashed so quickly that you can't process it; it's all subliminal. Half the people in the study get a list of words that we associate with African-Americans, things like Oprah or reggae. So not bad things, but things that we tend to associate with being black. Half the sample gets a list of words that has no racial association but that are matched for their word length. And then people are given these crimes to read, and they're asked, how guilty is the person? How much punishment does the person deserve? How likely is the person to reoffend? How adult-like is this offender? And in both samples, regardless of the race of the person in the experiment, if you got primed to think of African-Americans, you rated the person, the criminal, as guiltier, more deserving of punishment, more likely to reoffend, more adult-like. And this happened, as I said, regardless of the race of the person in the experiment. So black police officers were just as likely to do this as white police officers, black probation officers just as likely as white probation officers. But it gets to something that's important about understanding disproportionate minority involvement in the system, which is that we have unconscious biases that affect the decisions that we make.
Question: Why do you feel there is a disproportionate number of minority adolescents in prison in America?
Laurence Steinberg: Well, racial disproportionality in the justice system is seen at virtually every level that you look at. So it's seen in terms of who gets arrested, it's seen in terms of how people are charged, it's seen in terms of who gets detained, it's seen in terms of who gets incarcerate, and it's seen in terms of who gets transferred. At all of those levels of involvement in the system, you see more black and Latino kids than you do white kids, controlling for their criminal behavior. There isn't one thing that causes this to happen. It's, I think, probably the sum of many smaller things but then when added up have a large effect. So we know that there is racial profiling going on in terms of how law authorities work. We know that people have unconscious biases against kids of color that might lead them to see them as more dangerous when they may not be. You tend to see disproportionality the most at less serious crimes. So, just in a concrete way, if you're talking about somebody who's murdered somebody, it really doesn't matter, for the most part, whether that criminal is black or white; they're going to be punished for murder. But if you're talking about somebody who's arrested for drug dealing, you know, there's a lot of subjectivity that goes on in how the charge is made and in what the outcome of the charge is.
Question: So how do we go about changing this in a systemic way?
Laurence Steinberg: It's been done in a couple of places and been effective. So what you can do is, you can give the decision-makers objective criteria by which to decide how to punish or sanction somebody. And those objective criteria could include things like the grades somebody was getting in school, the person's prior record, the person's behavior while in the detention facility, how the person scored on some test of personality or aggression or whatever. But when those kinds of objective scoring systems are implemented that then tell you, well, given this score, we want to use this sanction, you can eliminate the racial differences in the way kids are treated.
Question: Can you explain your research into why students are becoming less engaged in academic pursuits?
Laurence Steinberg: And a couple things emerged from that study that I think are really important for understanding American education policy. The first is that a very significant proportion of kids tell us that they're just going through the motions when they're in school; I mean that they're not engaged, that they're not trying their hardest, that they're bored. And clearly we are not challenging kids in American schools as much as we should. And you see this if you do international comparisons. We didn't in this study, but if you look at how much time kids spend on homework, for example, the average in our study -- and this is a figure that you see in lots of different studies -- is about four to five hours a week for a typical high school student. In Japan it's four to five hours a day. And so you see the difference in magnitude of how hard we push kids here in America compared to other places.
The other thing that we found was that parents and peers have a huge impact on kids' engagement in school, independent of what's going on in the classroom. And so kids who are raised in households where their parents practice better parenting -- the kind of parenting that has been called authoritative parenting, where they're firm, but they're warm, and where their parents are involved in their schooling, where they go school conferences and so forth -- those kids do better in school. At the same time, it's not just the home, because we also found that there's significant peer pressure on kids that makes a difference, and unfortunately, more often than not it's peer pressure to do not as well as you might. So a very high proportion of kids told us that they refrained from raising their hand in class to answer a question because they're afraid that their peers will make fun of them. And so we need to do something to transform the culture that says it's okay to be smart. You can also be cool in other ways, but it's also okay to be smart.
Now, perhaps the most controversial finding that we came up with had to do with ethnic differences in achievement. Across all of the schools that we studied, Asian-American kids were doing significantly better than white kids, and white kids were doing significantly better than black and Latino kids. And that's controlling for family income, it's controlling for parental education, it's controlling for other factors that might be correlated with ethnicity and that might have played a role in this too. And when we look at why that is, we see several important things. The first is -- this is a great question that one of my collaborators said; we have to put this on a questionnaire -- and the question was, what's the lowest grade you could get without your parents getting angry, right? So the Asian kids, it's an A-minus, all right? For the white kids, you know, it's more like a B. And for the black and Latino kids, it's somewhere, you know, around a B-minus or C-plus. So clearly there are different expectations in these households.
The second thing is that when we ask kids about the importance of schooling, we see really different patterns in how kids from different ethnic groups answer the question. Asian kids tell us that they are sure that if they do poorly in school, something bad will happen to them. They won't get a good job in life, all right? Black and, to a certain extent, Latino kids don't have that belief. So every -- all ethnic groups share the belief that doing well in school has a payoff. It's how they think about doing poorly in school that makes a difference. And the Asian kids do well in part because they're really afraid of what the consequences of not doing well are. And I think that comes back to the standards that their parents have set for them at home.
Question: Is the idea that being smart can lead to success taking hold at all among the youth?
Laurence Steinberg: Well, I don't know about how it's changed attitudes. It certainly hasn't done anything to kids' achievement, which has stayed pretty flat. So if you look at these tests that are given by the federal government year after year after year, I mean there's a little bit of fluctuation from year to year; there's been a little improvement in, I think, eighth grade math, something like that. But across the board, I think anybody looking at the data objectively would say that none of the things that we've tried to do in the last 30 years has made a difference. Achievement is lower now than it was in the 1970s, and -- that's partly what prompted us to do the study. We spend all of this money on school reform, and we're constantly having debates about it: how we train teachers, what we pay teachers, how much money we give schools, whether we should have big schools or small schools. People try to do all these experiments where they change these things. And it doesn't make a difference. It really doesn't make a difference.
I'm not saying that teachers shouldn't be well paid; of course they should be well paid. But that alone is not going to raise achievement among American students. Do schools need resources? Of course they need resources. But lots of research shows that there is a very small relationship between the resources that a school gets and the output that it produces in kids. And I think -- and I think if you look at projects like the Harlem Children's Zone, where they have attacked this problem as a community problem and not as a problem that's just located in the classroom, and they're seeing terrific results there. So our point in this book is that you really need to think about the whole context in which kids grow up and not just what takes place inside the classroom.
Question: What particular efforts should be made to enhance the potential educational success of underprivileged kids?
Laurence Steinberg: Well, you know, the fact that underprivileged kids do so poorly in school is a huge, huge problem for society, with tremendous implications for our economic future. And the gap between the rich and poor has grown considerably, and that trickles down to achievement; it's not just in terms of family income. The way that we finance schools I think is misguided, and disadvantages kids from poor neighborhoods. So certainly unhinging school financing from property taxes, which would allow us to redistribute tax income in a way that would be more equitable, would certainly be something that's important. A second thing is this issue of standards. We just don't hold kids in poor neighborhoods to the same academic standards that we hold kids in wealthy neighborhoods to. And so when kids in poor neighborhoods get promoted from grade to grade, or graduate from school, it's often a sham. I mean, often their diplomas are meaningless. I mean, there are kids with high school diplomas in this country who can read no better than at a fifth-grade level. And so we have dismissed that population of young people as being not important enough to really care about. We also need to do a better job at engaging their families in their schooling. A lot of their parents, of course, had their own problems in school, and so they're more reluctant, they're more uncomfortable showing up in school because it was an uncomfortable place for them when they were kids. So we need to think of better ways of getting parents involved in their kids' educations.
Question: What steps should we take in education to equip our kids to better compete in the global economy?
Laurence Steinberg: Well, I think that we can make schools more challenging, for starters, so that kids are pushed harder and come out with better skills and more knowledge than they are right now. I'm somebody who favors national exams and having national standards. I believe -- I may be off by one country or so -- but I believe every industrialized country in the world except the United States has national standards for kids' achievement. So I think allowing education to be kind of a local issue is part of the problem because it allows districts to set their own standards. We've moved away from that a little bit, but there's been huge rebellion against that, and people have spoken out against performance-based evaluations of kids. I think it's a good thing to do. You know, the major objection to it is that it forces teachers to teach to the test, and that they're not doing things in the classroom that are creative or that promote critical thinking. Well, if that's the case, we need to design better tests. I mean, there's no problem with teaching to the test if the test is measuring something that you want kids to achieve. So I think there are a number of things that we could do to improve academic achievement among American kids.
Question: How would you advise Obama on education reform?
Laurence Steinberg: Well, number one would be to use the bully pulpit to get parents more involved in their kids' education. And that includes reading to them when they're little, staying involved in their education not only in elementary school, but in middle school and high school as well. The second is to push for standards-based reform, to continue along this line, and to ask states to do this.
I think a third thing for the President to do is to again use the bully pulpit -- and I say that because you know the federal government has very little to do with education. All he can do is encourage; he can't really do very much more than that. But I think a third thing would be to try to encourage more talented people to go into teaching and to go into education, because we need good teachers if we're going to deal with the American achievement problem. And I think -- again, I'm not sure what he can actually do, except maybe by setting an example -- and I think President Obama is in a position to do this because he's obviously a very smart guy, and he's also a very cool guy. And I think that to the extent that we want to get kids to see that you can be both, that maybe we can build on his reputation and his persona to encourage that. So those are the main things that I would suggest.
Question: How would you evaluate Obama’s proposals for education reform?
Laurence Steinberg: I think -- I'd have to say at this point that there haven't been many proposals. So -- I mean, certainly the principles that President Obama has articulated are important ones. I think they're pretty consistent with the kinds of things that I and other people have been saying we need to do. He certainly understands the importance of education to the American economy. In his controversial speech to those schoolchildren he talked about the importance of doing well in school, of staying in school, in other words, of being engaged in school. That's all good. I think that education really has not been a priority of the administration so far because it's been understandably concerned with the economy, with health care, with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. So I guess I'd like to wait and see what actually develops before we start talking about whether the policies are good or not.
Question: Why don’t America’s prevention based programs work?
Laurence Steinberg: The major causes of morbidity and mortality among American teenagers are self-inflicted behaviors, so motor vehicle crashes, homicide, suicide, drug-related behaviors that lead to health consequences either because of the drugs themselves or because when you're using drugs or drinking, you're more likely to have an accident, get into a fight, have unprotected sex and so on. So our approach to dealing with these problems in this country for years has been through classroom-based education -- abstinence education, just-say-no education and so on. And if you look at these programs and you look at evaluations of these programs, you can't help but come away disappointed, perhaps even skeptical.
I mean, DARE, which is all over the country, doesn't work at all. And we know that from good studies of DARE. Abstinence-only education, which has been thoroughly evaluated, doesn't work. Driver's education, I learned recently, doesn't work. And so educating kids about avoiding risky or harmful situations or substances doesn't seem to make much of a difference. And I think that if you look at basic social psychology, that's not surprising, because what most studies show is that it's not hard to change people's attitudes and knowledge, but it's really hard to change their behavior. And so in our work we've asked, well, why is it that kids know that these things are risky, know that these things are harmful, and still do them anyway? I mean, you know, a huge proportion of kids have sex without using condoms. I mean, they've been told over and over and over again that that's dangerous. A large proportion of kids become cigarette smokers, regular smokers, and they've been told over and over again that that's dangerous. Why do they do these things?
And my argument is not that we should stop telling them the facts about risky behavior, but that we need to understand that kids engage in a lot of risk-taking behavior for reasons that have nothing to do with their knowledge or beliefs. They have to do with something that I talked about earlier, which has to do with this increase in sensation seeking and thrill seeking that occurs during early adolescence that has to do with changes in the brain. And it has to do with the still-maturing control system that regulates impulses, that allows us to make better decisions. And middle adolescence -- let's say from 14 to 17 or so -- is a time when you have a very easily aroused reward system which makes you less attentive to the possible costs of a risky decision and more attentive to the immediate rewards. So you have this hyper-aroused reward system, and you have this immature impulse control system. So kids pursue their rewards, and they don't have the brakes to put on. So how can we address this? Because clearly, when you're on a couch making out with your girlfriend and you're aroused, if you don't have the maturity of judgment to stop and say, you know, we should use a condom before we go any further, you're going to have unsafe sex.
So the approach I think we need to take for many of these behaviors is by changing the context in which kids live, not by trying to change the kid, because I don't think we can change this aspect of adolescence, nor do I think we should. What do I mean by changing the context? Graduated driver's licensing is a perfect example of this. It is well established that adolescents have more crashes when they’re driving with other adolescent passengers in the car than when they're driving by themselves. We did a study in our lab in which we manipulated this experimentally and found the same thing. And we're doing brain imaging work now in which we're seeing why this is likely to be the case. Up until fairly recently there were no restrictions on kids having passengers in the car when they first got their licenses. Well, this doesn't make any sense, given what we know from the actuarial data and from scientific research. I mean, having passengers in the car when you're a teenager increases your risk of having a crash to about the same degree that drinking does.
So it's a really serious risk factor for having a crash. And most parents, I think, would hesitate to turn the car keys over to their teenager if they smelled alcohol on her breath. But would they even ask if she was going to pick up a bunch of other kids and drive around with them, even though they're both risky? So graduated driver's licensing sets restrictions early on in the licensing process over the conditions under which kids can drive. That has been very, very effective in states that have implemented it and states where -- that have enforced it. We could have classroom-based education in which we told kids, you know, if you have your friends in the car it's going to increase the likelihood of an accident, and I'll bet that they wouldn't change their behavior at all. But having a law that says they can't do it -- they can lose their license if they drive that way -- that has shown to be effective. And that's what I mean by changing the context rather than trying to change the kid.
Question: How can we make sex safer for teens?
Laurence Steinberg: Well, you know, of course, changing the context in which kids have sex is the most difficult of all because it's a private matter, and we're not there. There are a couple of things that can be done. We can make contraception more easily available to kids so that they have it with them. Some kids -- not the majority -- but some kids say in surveys that the reason that they don't use contraception is that they don't have access to it, so we could do something about that. And there have been school-based clinics that have distributed condoms to kids who come in there, give them away for free, have been shown to be effective when it's combined with other efforts to educate kids about safe sex. We can limit the opportunities kids have to be by themselves without adult supervision. The main period of time now for adolescents to engage in risky behavior is between three o'clock and six o'clock in the afternoon, when they're home or in their friends' homes and their parents are at work. I mean, we now know this.
Most kids -- you know, the image of kids having sex for the first time in the back seat of their car? Forget it. They're having it in their own homes or in their romantics partner's home. And so having better supervision of kids, more situations in which adults are around, is going to help all kinds of risky behavior, including risky sexual behavior. And how can we do that? We can make parents more aware of the need to monitor their kids, even when their kids are teenagers. We can do a better job of funding and putting in after-school programs for kids, so that the time after school is spent in structured situations where there are adults who are supervising it. But there's a huge literature showing that unstructured, unsupervised time is a recipe for disaster for adolescents in terms of risk and reckless behavior.
Question: What about drug abuse?
Laurence Steinberg: Well, I think we have a little more power to affect teenage drug abuse than we do to affect teenage sexual behavior. So here are some other things that we can do: we can make it harder for kids to get the substances through better interdiction and through better enforcement of point-of-sale laws. And that -- both of those things have proven to be effective. We can tax the hell out of these things, which frankly is probably the best single intervention that we could do. So if you look at the decline in smoking that's taken place over time, which is a great thing, so fewer people smoke, fewer kids smoke than was the case a couple of decades ago. The reason for that has almost nothing to do with programs to educate kids about the dangers of smoking. It has to do with an increase in the retail price of cigarettes. So kids who don't have a lot of money are very price-sensitive, and so if we continue as we've been doing to increase the cost of buying cigarettes, fewer and fewer kids are going to smoke. And if we increase the cost of purchasing alcohol, fewer kids would drink
Question: What should parents do when they notice reckless behavior from teens?
Laurence Steinberg: Well, I think the first thing you should do is to ask whether your parenting is allowing the child to get into situations where this inclination toward risky and reckless behavior is going to be pursued. You know, some kids can handle independence better than others. And parents need to look at their individual kid and say, is my kid ready to be left alone as often as I leave him alone? Or is he ready to drive? Just because a kid turns 16 doesn't magically make him mature. So I think that parents need to adjust their parenting to suit their kids. I mean, there are some basic principles of good parenting that have been shown to diminish risky behavior and to diminish other kinds of problem behavior, and also to -- I mean, the good news is that the same things that diminish problem behavior also facilitate positive development. So by becoming a warmer parent, by becoming a firmer parent, by becoming more involved in your kid's life, you're going to have this positive effect. You're going to diminish problems, and you're going to improve your child's functioning in school in terms of his maturity, in terms of his social relationships.
Question: Why are teenagers the most prone to recklessness?
Laurence Steinberg: Well, I think you can answer that question on different levels, so let's give it a shot. Think about adolescence from an evolutionary point of view, all right? I mean, adolescence is really the beginning of when we're supposed to be reproducing. And if you look at other species, at puberty the juveniles -- and because some viewers might not realize this, all mammals go through adolescence, and we can measure when they are in the adolescent period in terms of the puberty hormones -- so if you look at what happens at puberty in other species, the juveniles leave the home. And that is, you know, designed so that they don't mate within their family. But now, leaving the home is a very risk proposition. It's dangerous to leave the protection of the older animals that have raised you and protected you. I think that that's why risk-taking is built into adolescence as a part of the repertoire of behavior that's good, that's important and that's necessary for evolution.
Now, the conditions under which we evolved are not the same as the conditions that exist today. And so this general inclination for risk-taking, which may be an inherent feature of adolescence, may lead kids into difficult and dangerous situations now that didn't exist when we were evolving, although it was a pretty dangerous time to be a human being when we were evolving as well. And I think that this then helps to explain why the brain changes the way it does during adolescence, why you have this increase in novelty-seeking that is linked to the sexual changes of puberty. And this then encourages kids to pursue rewards and to engage in pleasurable and exciting behaviors like having sex. And I think that if -- that by the same token, you know, the brain's self-regulatory systems are still developing then, and they come online in adulthood, which is when, evolutionarily speaking, we need that because that's when we're raising the children that we have produced during the adolescent years, after we become fertile. So I think it makes a lot of sense, and that's why I think that it's probably futile to try to stop kids from being the way they are. I think it's good to educate them; they need to understand the potential harms and dangers that are out there. But I think we need to recognize that education alone is not going to prevent adolescent risky behavior.
Question: What are some of the latest insights into the nature vs. nurture debate?
Laurence Steinberg: So the -- what has taken place in the last decade or so has been a complete transformation of the way that scientists think about nature and nurture. And this distinction between what is genetic and what is environmental is now seen as a false dichotomy. It's a bad way to think about things because genes are not directions that our bodies follow, but switches that can be turned on and off by things in the environment. And so just because you have inherited a genetic inclination toward something, toward a certain personality trait, let's say, or toward, you know, being relatively smart -- things that we know have some genetic component to them -- whether that will actually be realized in your behavior is going to be a function of the environment.
And so we can't think of these things separately, and the questions that people were asking decades ago -- which was how much of this is due to nature and how much of this is due to nurture? -- are no longer being asked because we realize now that they're dumb questions. That's not the way things work. They work together, and we need to understand how they interact with each other. So there are studies, for example, showing that there's a genetic propensity to become depressed. Some people have a genetic profile that is going to make them more susceptible to the changes in neurotransmission that effect the onset of depression. But this genetic propensity only turns into depression if people grow up under stressful life circumstances. So if you look at individuals who've grown up under less stressful circumstances, even the ones with the genetic vulnerability don't develop depression. And this is the new kind of science that's being done now that's so exciting in understanding which environmental conditions turn on and turn off which genes. And that's going to be the new frontier in understanding development.
So when parents ask, you know, why did my kid turn out to be different than me, I mean there's so many reasons, because even if your child inherited your genes, unless your child grew up in the exact same kind of environment that you did, they might not be manifested in the same kind of behavior. And you know, parents don't treat all their kids the same way. Siblings growing up in the same family may have very different experiences both within the home and outside the home. I mean, experience matters. So when we read that things have a genetic basis, we need to be cautious in understanding what that really means. Genes don't determine our behavior. They establish propensities, but those propensities are realized differentially in different kinds of environments.
Question: Does the Most Likely To Succeed Award predict future success?
Laurence Steinberg: There is, although it's -- you know, it’s not huge. But you know, success in many, many different types of situations requires the same things. And so, you know, being smart, having a good sense of humor, having social skills that allow you to figure out what other people want you to do and how to get them to do what you want them to do, being able to delay gratification -- it's a hugely important factor in success in life. All these are predictors of success virtually at every stage of development. So in some senses it's not surprising that people who are successful in high school are successful as adults, because the same things that got them successful in high school enable them to be successful in adulthood. That said, you know, there is a certain culture of youth that values certain attributes that aren't necessarily valued in adulthood. And so there's maybe a subset of attributes that are operative during high school that are very adolescence-specific that no longer are operative during adulthood. And that may account for the fact that the correlation between success in adolescence and success later is not perfect. But it's certainly significant. [00:47:27.04]
Question: Have you done research where the result turned out differently than you expected?
Laurence Steinberg: Well, I can think of two things, okay? One was very early in my career, and one was more recently. The early one was the following: I had done my doctoral dissertation on how family relationships change when kids move from childhood into adolescence. And what we found was that as a direct function of pubertal maturation, there was an increase in conflict between kids and their parents. And I was writing -- this is now back in the late '70s -- about why puberty caused conflict between kids and their parents. And about 10 years later I was driving around with a friend of mine, another psychologist, and he said, have you ever thought about maybe it's the other way around? Maybe family conflict causes kids to go through puberty. And I thought, wow, that's a wild idea!
And we had these data where we had followed people over time, where we had measured puberty and family conflict and different points in time, so we could look at kind of which came first. And sure enough, we found that kids who grew up -- now, this was limited to girls -- that girls who grew up in family environments characterized by higher levels of conflict went through puberty earlier, which was -- it just completely blew me away. And when I first presented this -- I remember I was out at Stanford giving a talk, and a very famous psychologist there, Eleanor Maccoby, came up to me afterwards, and she said, that was a beautiful talk, but I don't believe any of it. And you know, this was the first study in humans to demonstrate this. Now, we know that biological functioning is influenced by social factors. There's the whole thing of menstrual synchrony: when women live together their menstrual periods tend to get synchronized, and so on. But nobody had shown this before. And since then it's now been replicated in a bunch of different studies, and it's kind of an accepted fact within developmental psychology. So that was something that really surprised me, that I would never have predicted.
Question: What is one of your most unexpected recent findings?
Laurence Steinberg: The more recent finding is this peer effect, where -- we did a study where we had people come into the lab to take a batter of risk-taking and decision-making measures on a computer. And we asked them to come and bring two friends with them. And then we randomly assigned them to either do these tasks by themselves or to do it with their friends watching them. And we had teenagers, college undergraduates and adults, you know, 30 or so years old. And so what we found in this study was that the mere presence of peers doubled the number of risks that adolescents took. It had a 50 percent increase among college students and no effect at all among adults. Now, this was really interesting to me. Nobody had shown this experimentally before, although it's consistent with the idea that most adolescent risk-taking occurs when they're in groups and with their friends.
So we just recently -- my colleague Jason Chein, who's a neuroscientist, and I just recently took this experiment into the FMRI. So we have the subjects with their brains being scanned, and they're lying down on the magnets, the computer screen is in there, they can do the task, the same task. We have them come with two friends; their friends are in the next room. Their friends can see their performance on a monitor that's in the next room, and their friends are miked into the magnets. So on cue, when we tell the friends, they say, okay, Dave, I'm watching you now, all right? And we compare people's performance on these tasks when they know their friends are watching them and when they know their friends can't see them at all. So they're not even in the same room with them; they're just aware of their presence. I mean, they're not encouraging them to take risks or anything like that, because we script what they're allowed to say. And we've just discovered --we're in the process of writing this up right now to send out to a journal -- that the presence of peers activates the brain systems that are in this reward circuit that we've been talking about, in kids, but it doesn't in adults.
And so we think that the reason that we saw the peer effect is that when you are with your friends when you are a teenager, it increases the salience of the rewarding aspects of a risky decision, which then of course is going to make you pursue the risky decision rather than be risk-averse. So we're really excited about this finding. And we are just working on a paper this morning in which we looked at the impact of the presence of friends on people's preferences for immediate versus delayed rewards. And we're just doing this in the scanner now, but in our behavioral research we see the same thing. So we have a sample of 19-year-olds, and they do this task -- it's called a delay discounting task -- where it basically measures how much less of a reward you'd be willing to take to get it now rather than waiting. When the 19-year-olds do this with their friends watching them, they make decisions that are comparable to what 14-year-olds make. But when 19-year-olds do it with their friends not watching them, they behave like adults. And so again it's this impact of peers on reward processing that seems to be going on that may play a role in understanding risk-taking. So when we first saw -- you ask what gets me excited -- you know, when we first saw these brain scans, we couldn't believe it because it looked too beautiful to be true. And we peaked kind of early on; we'd only run, you know, a couple dozen subjects. And now we've done the whole experiment, and it's just amazing. It has held up, so we're really, really jazzed about this.
Recorded on December 10, 2009
A conversation with the Temple University psychologist.
Northwell Health CEO Michael Dowling has an important favor to ask of the American people.
- Michael Dowling is president and CEO of Northwell Health, the largest health care system in New York state. In this PSA, speaking as someone whose company has seen more COVID-19 patients than any other in the country, Dowling implores Americans to wear masks—not only for their own health, but for the health of those around them.
- The CDC reports that there have been close to 7.9 million cases of coronavirus reported in the United States since January. Around 216,000 people have died from the virus so far with hundreds more added to the tally every day. Several labs around the world are working on solutions, but there is currently no vaccine for COVID-19.
- The most basic thing that everyone can do to help slow the spread is to practice social distancing, wash your hands, and to wear a mask. The CDC recommends that everyone ages two and up wear a mask that is two or more layers of material and that covers the nose, mouth, and chin. Gaiters and face shields have been shown to be less effective at blocking droplets. Homemade face coverings are acceptable, but wearers should make sure they are constructed out of the proper materials and that they are washed between uses. Wearing a mask is the most important thing you can do to save lives in your community.
New cancer-scanning technology reveals a previously unknown detail of human anatomy.
- Scientists using new scanning technology and hunting for prostate tumors get a surprise.
- Behind the nasopharynx is a set of salivary glands that no one knew about.
- Finding the glands may allow for more complication-free radiation therapies.
PSMA PET/CT technology<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="676e611b970c9b516cace0870447b325"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/RHAyoQF09X4?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>PSMA PET/CT is a new combination of <a href="https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/pet-scan/about/pac-20385078" target="_blank">PET scans</a> and <a href="https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/ct-scan/about/pac-20393675" target="_blank">CT scans</a> that is believed to offer a more reliable means of locating prostate cancer metastasis. A <a href="https://www.cancer.gov/news-events/cancer-currents-blog/2020/prostate-cancer-psma-pet-ct-metastasis" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">study</a> published last spring suggests it may be the most accurate way to diagnose prostate cancer metastasis than any method previously available.</p><p>Prior to PSMA PET/CT, the primary way to look for metastatic prostate cancer was to image the body using x-ray-based CT scans and to perform bone scans, since bone is where prostate cancer often spreads. CT scans, however, often miss small tumors, and bone scans can generate false positives as a result of other damage or abnormalities that have nothing to do with prostate cancer.</p><p>PSMA PET/CT scans track the travels of an intravenously administered radioactive glucose tracer throughout the body. For hunting down prostate cancer, this tracer contains a molecule that binds to the <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1472940/" target="_blank">PSMA</a> protein that's present in large amounts in prostate tumors. The molecule is linked to a radioisotope, <a href="https://netrf.org/2018/11/13/gallium-68-scan-for-neuroendocrine-tumors/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">gallium-68</a> (Ga-68).</p><p>In last spring's research, PSAM PET/CT was shown to be 27 percent more accurate than previous methods at finding metastases (92 percent accuracy as opposed to 65 percent). In addition, it was found to be much less likely to produce false positives, and it was particularly good at detecting tumors far removed from the prostate.</p>
A good kind of avoidance behavior<p>"Radiation therapy can damage the salivary glands," says Vogel, "which may lead to complications. Patients may have trouble eating, swallowing, or speaking, which can be a real burden."</p><p>The researchers looked back through the cases of 723 patients who had undergone radiation treatment, interested in seeing if inadvertent radiation of the tubarial glands was associated with the complications experienced by the patients. It turned out that this <em>was</em> the case: In cases where more radiation had been delivered to this area, patients did indeed report more in the way of complications of the type one would expect when salivary glands are radiated.</p><p>Now that we know the tubarial salivary glands exist, therapists can stay out of their way. Vogel says, "For most patients, it should technically be possible to avoid delivering radiation to this newly discovered location of the salivary gland system in the same way we try to spare known glands."</p><p>He's hopeful that that things may be about to get at least a bit better for cancer patients: "Our next step is to find out how we can best spare these new glands and in which patients. If we can do this, patients may experience less side effects which will benefit their overall quality of life after treatment."</p>
A new survey found that 27 percent of millennials are saving more money due to the pandemic, but most can't stay within their budgets.
Taking control of bad luck<p>According to <a href="https://themanifest.com/accounting/budgeting-money-tips-for-millennials" target="_blank">a recent survey by The Manifest</a>, a business news website, millennials agree with Cramer. The study found that, of millennials surveyed, their largest expenses were housing (66 percent), educational expenses (9 percent), and health insurance (6 percent). In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, millennials are using the remaining 19 percent of their paychecks to budget and increase their savings.</p><p>About a third of millennials said they are saving more money in response to the pandemic and creating new budgets for themselves. In fact, of all generations surveyed, millennials felt the most comfortable creating personal budgets. They were also willing to think critically and adjust budgets to match financial changes, both signs that this highly-educated generation is willing to learn and adapt.</p><p>Millennials still have a rough road ahead, though. According to the survey, about half of millennials make less than $50,000 a year. That puts them into the upper-lower or lower-middle <a href="https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/07/23/are-you-in-the-american-middle-class/#:~:text=In%202018%2C%20the%20national%20middle,(incomes%20in%202018%20dollars)." target="_blank">income class</a>, depending on where in the country they live. That matches <a href="https://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/2019/article/time-use-of-millennials-and-nonmillennials.htm#:~:text=Among%20full%2Dtime%20wage%20and,with%2031%20percent%20of%20nonmillennials." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">BLS data</a>, which shows millennials earning less than older non-millennials. <a href="https://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/2019/beyond-bls/the-kids-are-alright-millennials-and-the-economy.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">The BLS also notes</a> that while millennials have less debt than GenXers, most of that is student loan debt rather than mortgages.</p><p>And despite their budgetary plans, only 11 percent of millennials surveyed were able to stay within budget, while uncertainty still looms in the future job market.<em></em></p><p>With all this said, there are caveats to The Manifest survey. It hosted a relatively small sample size, only surveying 502 Americans. Of those, millennials made up 22 percent of respondents. They weren't even the largest cohort in the study. That was the baby boomers at 32 percent. </p><p>This makes the survey more suggestive than indicative. But the suggestion is that millennials, to borrow a phrase from writer Vicki Robin, are ready to reinterpret their relationship with finances.</p>
A push for financial freedom<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="a463513bfbe5a2b7d5bcc59f8be265a7"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/J-B-b393epk?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>While budgeting and financial savvy have always been important, the millennial generation will need to be far more critical of their relationship with the economy. What <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T_tDthUWsVM" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Robin calls the old roadmap</a>—the idea that "growth is good, more is better, game over"—is unlikely to support millennials as it did past generations. They'll need a new roadmap, charting both a new macro (the relationship between our economic and ecological footprints, for example) and micro (our individual relationships with money).</p><p>Because the macro is a whole other article, we'll stick with the micro here:</p><p><strong>1) Track and cut your spending</strong></p><p>The first step to financial freedom is to track your spending and cut unnecessary purchases. For Robin, these are often the things, services, and subscriptions that we buy out of habit, but we no longer consider whether they add value to our lives.</p><p>A pernicious modern example is the subscription economy. We subscribe to services for food, clothes, television, exercise, self-help, video games, bric-a-brac, computer programs, and on and on. These services quickly fade into the financial background as just another bill we pay. </p><p>But if we watch Netflix nine times out of ten, why pay for Hulu and Disney+ and HBO Max and CBS All access? Instead, every month or so, we should scrutinize our subscriptions to ask whether they still add value to our lives. If they don't, unsubscribe.</p><p><strong>2) Kill your debt</strong></p><p>Debt doesn't just take away money we could save elsewhere; it's also a self-replicating devourer of wealth. Your debt interest rates are almost certainly higher than your investment returns, especially on credit cards. Because of this, no matter your saving rituals, you're likely bleeding wealth the longer you remain in debt.</p><p>Instead, focus on removing debt from your life. Again, credit card debt especially. The good news is that most companies have hardship programs to help debtors. You can call them to see if they can lower your interest rates or provide other helpful services.</p><p>"Financial accommodations are generally readily available right now," Amy Thomann, the head of consumer credit education at TransUnion, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/29/at-home/manage-finances-save-money-millennials-coronavirus.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">told the New York Times</a><u>.</u> "Lenders, just like consumers, understand the hardships that are going on in the economy."</p><p><strong>3) Have an emergency fund</strong></p><p>Of course, you'll need some savings when the unexpected happens. Say—I don't know—a worldwide pandemic? Experts like Robin and Thomann recommend people have three to six months' worth of expenses on reserve. These should be in liquid assets so you can access them easily and quickly.</p><p>Of course, that's not always feasible, but you should save what you can. </p><p><strong>4) Find social outlets that don't cost</strong></p><p>The economic shutdown has offered one financial boon: It has revealed ways we can enjoy each other's company with overspending. We can host movies remotely with our friends. Play video games online. Enjoy physical-distance strolls through the park. And a host of other creative connections. After the pandemic, the occasional bar hop or Friday dinner out can still be a guilty pleasure. But unlike sitcom characters, we shouldn't be spending our social lives on the set of our favorite coffee shops or local watering holes.</p><p><strong>5) Reconsider your relationship with money</strong></p><p>Robin pushes her readers to be financially free. That is, to understand that there's an economy, people have a relationship with it, but it shouldn't become an obsession that runs their lives. As <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xDaBjc4QyWU" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">she told <em>Big Think</em></a>: "It's like there are so many presumptions that drive us into wage [slavery], and it doesn't matter whether you are at the low end or the high end. If you are engaged in that sort of anxious process of 'more, more, more,' you are not free."</p><p>The millennial generation has certainly been dealt a bum hand, but it's perhaps defeatist, and more than a little premature, to label them the unluckiest generation. Perhaps after being led astray by the old roadmap, they will be the generation to reconsider their relationship with money—not as an end itself but a means to a healthier and more beneficial life. </p>
Two massive clouds of dust in orbit around the Earth have been discussed for years and finally proven to exist.
- Hungarian astronomers have proven the existence of two "pseudo-satellites" in orbit around the earth.
- These dust clouds were first discovered in the sixties, but are so difficult to spot that scientists have debated their existence since then.
- The findings may be used to decide where to put satellites in the future and will have to be considered when interplanetary space missions are undertaken.
What are they?<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xODgyMDA0NC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNTM1ODc0Mn0.NH33LuauIo__sUBi4tvhwxDcsvhflDFD-Nhx9FjlSNk/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=148%2C0%2C149%2C0&height=700" id="cec96" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="acb78abe2ab46a17e419ad30906751d6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Artist's impression of the Kordylewski cloud in the night sky (with its brightness greatly enhanced) at the time of the observations.
G. Horváth<p>The<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kordylewski_cloud" target="_blank"> Kordylewski clouds</a> are two dust clouds first observed by Polish astronomer Kazimierz Kordylewski in 1961. They are situated at two of the <a href="https://www.space.com/30302-lagrange-points.html" target="_blank">Lagrange points</a> in Earth's orbit. These points are locations where the gravity of two objects, such as the Earth and the Moon or a planet and the Sun, equals the centripetal required to orbit the objects while staying in the same relative position. There are five of these spots between the Earth and Moon. The clouds rest at what are called points four and five, forming a triangle with the clouds and the Earth at the three corners.</p><p>The clouds are enormous, taking up the same space in the night sky as twenty lunar discs; covering an area of 45,000 miles. They are roughly 250,000 miles away, about the same distance from us as the Moon. They are entirely comprised of specks of dust which reflect the light of the sun so faintly most astronomers that looked for them were unable to see them at all. </p><p>The clouds themselves are probably ancient, but the model that the scientists created to learn about them suggests that the individual dust particles that comprise them can be blown away by solar wind and replaced by the dust from other cosmic sources like comet tails. This means that the clouds hardly move but are <a href="https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2018/11/news-earth-moon-dust-clouds-satellites-planets-space/" target="_blank">eternally changing</a>. </p>
How did they discover this?<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xODgyMDAzNi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1Nzc4MjQ4MX0.7uU9OqmQcWw5Ll1UXAav0PCu4nTg-GdJdAWADHanC7c/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C180%2C0%2C181&height=700" id="952fb" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="a778280a20f1c54cd2c14c8313224be2" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
"In this picture the central region of the Kordylewski dust cloud is visible (bright red pixels). The straight tilted lines are traces of satellites."
J. Slíz-Balogh<p>In their study published in the <a href="https://academic.oup.com/mnras" target="_blank">Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society</a>, Hungarian astronomers Judit Slíz-Balogh, András Barta, and Gábor Horváth described how they were able to find the dust clouds using polarized lenses.</p><p>Since the clouds were expected to polarize the light that bounces off of them, by configuring the telescopes to look for this kind of light the clouds were much easier to spot. What the scientists observed, polarized light in patterns that extended outside the view of the telescope lens, was in line with the predictions of their mathematical model and ruled out other possible sources. </p>
Why are we just learning this now?<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xODgyMDAzOS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY2MjUyNDMyMH0.Zl8GmQ_rJHiL4b7hN0r_YBmgb6_ZqIRvqOVuko2ubpw/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C141%2C0%2C185&height=700" id="87afe" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="dd4c0b5088e601d7279cc5eb226f8b7b" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
"Mosaic pattern of the angle of polarization around the L5 point (white dot) of the Earth-Moon system. The five rectangular windows correspond to the imaging telescope with which the patterns of the Kordylewski cloud were measured."
J. Slíz-Balogh<p>The objects, being dust clouds, are very faint and hard to see. While Kordylewski observed them in 1961, other astronomers have looked there and given mixed reports over the following decades. This discouraged many astronomers from joining the search, as study co-author Judit Slíz-Balogh <a href="https://ras.ac.uk/news-and-press/research-highlights/earths-dust-cloud-satellites-confirmed" target="_blank">explained</a>, <em>"The Kordylewski clouds are two of the toughest objects to find, and though they are as close to Earth as the Moon are largely overlooked by researchers in astronomy. It is intriguing to confirm that our planet has dusty pseudo-satellites in orbit alongside our lunar neighbor."</em></p>
Will this have any impact on space travel?<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c3d797fff5430c64afcb5a49bddc3616"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/Ou8N3v9SFPE?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>Lagrange points have been put forward as excellent locations for a space station or satellites like the <a href="https://jwst.nasa.gov/about.html" target="_blank">James Webb Telescope</a> to be put into orbit, as they would require little fuel to stay in place. Knowing about a massive dust cloud that could damage sensitive equipment already being there could save money and lives in the future. While we only know about the clouds at Lagrange points four and five right now, the study's authors suggest there could be more at the other points.</p><p>While the discovery of a couple of dust clouds might not seem all that impressive, it is the result of a half-century of astronomical and mathematical work and reminds us that wonders are still hidden in our cosmic backyard. While you might never need to worry about these clouds again, there is nothing wrong with looking at the sky with wonder at the strange and fantastic things we can discover. </p>
Your health and the health of the planet are not indistinguishable.
- Transitioning to a plant-based diet could help reduce obesity, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes.
- Humans are destroying entire ecosystems to perpetuate destructive food habits.
- Understanding how to properly transition to a plant-based diet is important for success.
Richard Dawkins: No Civilized Person Accepts Slavery So Why Do We Accept Animal Cruelty? | Big Think<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c09f23c34faacc8ec55aba054fae9c7c"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/_4SnBCPzBl0?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><h3>Get your hands dirty—in the kitchen</h3><p>Quarantine offered an entire world the opportunity to get into the kitchen and put on a chef's apron. Complaints about "not enough time" are the biggest barriers to preparing home-cooked meals. Of course, pandemic fatigue has resulted in a number of recent chefs ordering out more. That said, this is the perfect time to try your hand at new dishes. With infection rates <a href="https://www.vox.com/coronavirus-covid19/2020/10/11/21511641/covid-19-us-cases-update-testing-deaths-hospitalizations" target="_blank">increasing across the country</a>, stocking up on seasonal vegetables is a great idea. </p><p>Simple seasonal ways to begin your plant-based exploration include <a href="https://nomnompaleo.com/post/11136213353/roasted-kabocha-squash" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">roasted kabocha squash</a>, <a href="https://www.delicious.com.au/recipes/no-chop-pumpkin-soup/seblnp2r?r=recipes/collections/autumnrecipes&c=f3bf723a-05a7-487d-bd4b-5bc8af042ca9/autumn%20recipes%20you%27ll%20fall%20in%20love%20with" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Bombay potatoes</a>, and <a href="https://www.delicious.com.au/recipes/no-chop-pumpkin-soup/seblnp2r?r=recipes/collections/autumnrecipes&c=f3bf723a-05a7-487d-bd4b-5bc8af042ca9/autumn%20recipes%20you%27ll%20fall%20in%20love%20with" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">no-chop pumpkin soup</a>. If you're feeling a bit more adventurous, <a href="https://www.thecuriouschickpea.com/masoor-dal-tadka/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Masoor Dal Tadka</a> will keep you warm into the winter months. A delicious <a href="https://www.delish.com/cooking/recipe-ideas/a23362341/sweet-potato-salad-recipe/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">sweet potato salad</a> will never fail you. This <a href="https://www.buzzfeed.com/hannahloewentheil/easy-meatless-monday-recipes" target="_blank">round-up of 25 vegetarian recipes</a> will keep you busy for a few months (or a month if you're ambitious). </p><h3>Educate yourself on the benefits</h3><p>Education is essential for beginning any endeavor. Weeding through propaganda and bunk science to find credible evidence of any diet is difficult, though many experts agree that for individual and societal health, a plant-based diet is key. </p><p>Even vegetarianism has its pitfalls. For example, <a href="https://michaelpollan.com/books/cooked/" target="_blank">one-fifth of all calories</a> consumed by Americans come from nutritionally-worthless white flour. If you're eating processed bread every day, you're missing out on the benefits of a rich and varied diet. </p><p>Many of the "<a href="https://www.who.int/chp/chronic_disease_report/media/Factsheet4.pdf?ua=1" target="_blank">diseases of affluence</a>," such as cardiovascular and obesity-related ailments, originate with a poor diet (and lack of exercise). Meat has been an essential component of the human diet throughout our evolution. Today, we eat too much of it—and too much of it is produced in factory farms. Transitioning to a plant-based diet could help cut down on carbon emissions and the aforementioned diseases. </p><p>Plants are full of valuable phytochemicals and antioxidants that support a <a href="https://www.mdanderson.org/publications/focused-on-health/5-benefits-of-a-plant-based-diet.h20-1592991.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">strong immune system</a>. A (non-processed) plant-based diet reduces inflammation and offers plenty of fiber. It has been shown to reduce your risk of diabetes, stroke, and heart diseases. Those are all great reasons to transition. </p><h3>Begin your journey with a single step</h3><p>Going cold turkey rarely works for addicts. The same is true of diets. If you're interested in a plant-based diet, try to eat veg every other day for a few weeks. Notice how your body reacts on days you eat this way compared to other days. Gradually phase out meat products. Attempt meat-free weekdays and see if your craving for meat persists on the weekend. Try using meat as a garnish instead of the main course. </p><p>More importantly, have a replacement plan. Dropping all meat products to consume frozen dinners isn't the best course of action. Filling your cart with bags of foods you've never eaten before will overwhelm you. Prepare meals as you taper off of meat; arm yourself with a broad knowledge of healthy plants and vegetables. At some point, you might forget what you've been missing. </p>
Photo: anaumenko / Adobe Stock<h3>Start with foods you already love</h3><p>The good news is that you likely have a number of plant-based side and main dishes that you love. Transitioning into a new diet requires a certain level of enjoyment. Otherwise, you're going to loathe eating, and eating should bring some level of satisfaction. </p><p>Try a one-to-one ratio to begin. On one night, cook a meal you love. Then try something completely new the next night. Follow that up with old faithful. This way, you constantly have new dishes to look forward to yet don't get stuck in thinking you have to be creative every single day. You'll likely find some winners and decide not to repeat other dishes. Regardless, you'll have a broader menu to work from. </p><h3>Avoid ingredients you can't pronounce</h3><p>The produce section of your grocery store provides almost everything you need to survive. You can likely pronounce every ingredient in this section. There's a vast difference between food and foodstuffs. Plenty of plant-based companies offer too much of the latter. Potato chips are technically vegetarian, and some use simple ingredients, yet it's easy to fill your cart with foodstuffs. The health benefits of this are not only negligible but potentially dangerous. </p><p>Qi Sun, an assistant professor of nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, <a href="https://www.webmd.com/diet/obesity/news/20191104/are-there-health-downsides-to-vegetarian-diets" target="_blank">explains</a>. "If you eat a vegan diet, but eat a lot of french fries, refined carbs like white bread, white rice, that's not healthy." He suggests "emphasizing fruits and vegetables. Not fruit juice but whole food. And nuts."</p><h3>Utilize the wisdom of the internet—but don't get indoctrinated</h3><p>There's a lot of terrible advice—and worse, propaganda—on the internet. While you likely don't want to eat eggs every day, they're not "toxic," as one popular documentary claims. Eggs are <a href="https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/howto/guide/ingredient-focus-eggs" target="_blank">one of the best</a> low-cost, high-value foods around. </p><p>Read websites like <a href="https://www.everydayhealth.com/diet-nutrition/scientific-benefits-following-plant-based-diet/" target="_blank">Everyday Health</a>, which uses clear language, like "may improve" and "may decrease," with links to credible studies. This way you follow the going science without becoming fanatical about a particular diet or being disappointed if it turns out the research doesn't hold up. Good science evolves with evidence. And right now, the evidence points to more vegetables in our diets. </p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a> and <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Facebook</a>. His new book is</em> "<em><a href="https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B08KRVMP2M?pf_rd_r=MDJW43337675SZ0X00FH&pf_rd_p=edaba0ee-c2fe-4124-9f5d-b31d6b1bfbee" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy</a>."</em></p>