Being Careful with Research

Brad M. Griffin | May 15, 2012

Yesterday I blogged about handling brain (and all other) research with care. We simply cannot take researchers probings and popular commentary on those probings as absolute truth, any more than we should take Sticky Faith research as absolute truth.

Heres a second study that may be easily misinterpreted: Some teenagers brains may make them use drugs. As a WSJ article wondered aloud, Are Some Teenagers Wired for Addiction?

The abstract emphasizes that this exploratory brain scanning found different neurological networks active in impulse-control experiments among different teenagers. The biggest finding here is that those who had ADHD symptoms were activating different parts of the brain than those who had a history of drug and alcohol use. That could mean that having ADHD is not necessarily a risk factor for drug use.

It also seems that underfunctioning of the orbitofrontal cortex of 14-year-olds is one factor correlated with teenagers who have a history of drug use. But heres the thing: The study is not a before-after longitudinal study. It only shows correlation after the fact. So to conclude that this low brain activity means some kids are predisposed to drug use is taking a leap beyond the research itself.

In other words, we still dont know that some teens are hard-wired for addiction. As the researchers point out, impulsivity is a multi-dimensional construct. Let alone addiction, which is certainly a step beyond impulsivity.

As you read the headlines, be aware of the leaps we researchers and commentators make. Sometimes we all need reminders that the first rule of research is humility. Lets apply that to interpretation as well.

Brad M. Griffin

Brad M. Griffin is the Senior Director of Content for the Fuller Youth Institute, where he develops research-based training for youth workers and parents. A speaker, writer, and volunteer youth pastor, Brad is the coauthor of over a dozen books, including 3 Big Questions That Change Every Teenager, Faith in an Anxious World, Growing Young, several Sticky Faith books, Every Parent’s Guide to Navigating Our Digital World, and Can I Ask That? Brad and his family live in Southern California, where he serves as Pastor of Youth and Family Ministries at Mountainside Communion.


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