SOME NEUROCOGNITIVE IMPLICATIONS FOR NATION-BUILDING
Perhaps my favorite entirely apolitical blog is The Eide Neurolearning Blog run by the Drs. Brock and Fernette Eide, two physicians who specialize in brain research and its implications for educating children. With great regularity I find information there that either is of use to me professionally or has wider societal importance.
On Monday, the Eides posted “The Thinking Spot” which adds to the existing mountain of evidence regarding the role of the maturing prefrontal cortex in developing the capacity for higher order thinking that does not quite come to fruition until the early to mid-twenties but may begin as early as preadolescence. The Eides write, regarding the PDF studies cited:
“Rule-based learning has a developmental course (no big surprise), but what is a little surprising is the degree to which 12 year olds lag young adults in tests requiring them to make new rules.”
Consider that U.S. or Western intervention in Gap states, or alternatively, internal political reform movements like the ” Color Revolutions”, are essentially political efforts in forcing a ” Rule-set reset” on a dysfunctional society or failed state. If one prefers classic Lockean descriptors, rewriting the social contract to “create a more perfect union“.
Most, though not all, of the nations in which state failure threatens are also demographically undergoing a ” youth bulge”. In Iran for example, 66-70 % of the population is under 30 years of age with the “fattest” part of the population curve being aged between 10 and 20. Indeed, it is the poorest nations that tend to be the youngest. To quote a UN report:
“– Countries where fertility remains high and has declined only moderately will experience the slowest population ageing. By 2050, about 1 in 5 countries is still projected to have a median age under 30 years. The youngest populations
will be found in least developed countries, 11 of which are projected to have median ages at or below 23 years in 2050, including Angola, Burundi, Chad, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Niger and Uganda.”
What I infer from this data and the Neurolearning Blog post is that the most favorable time for any effort, external or indigenous, to engage in a positive restructuring of a nation’s societal rule-sets may be when a given country’s youth bulge hits their early twenties. A narrow window of time when the most physically vigorous and largest section of the population has reached mental maturity in terms of accepting, comprehending and processing abstractions yet are most open to new ideas and desirous of a productive future for themselves.
This is of course a two edged sword. Youthful populations that feel alienated and stymied tend to be restive, even revolutionary. 1968 was not just a year that saw tumultuous baby boomers in American streets but also the chaos of Cultural Revolution in China, the Prague Spring, riots in Paris, the rise of Marxist terrorism in Latin America, Germany and Italy and barely preceded an upsurge in PLO terrorism. Today, while Europe and China are rapidly graying and the U.S. is holding relatively steady, much of the world is very young
I suggest that we are not long for an era of great opportunities and great upheavals.
Cross posted to Chicago Boyz
March 8th, 2007 at 10:26 pm
The apparent, qualitative shift in the ability to think does argue for something domain-general in intelligence. I think that the contemporary synthesis will soon be of a “multiple intelligences” model that ranges from hundreds of highly functioning but limited “modules,” but also includes a “g” that spans a large number of domains.
March 11th, 2007 at 3:34 am
I agree. Modularity alone implies a module selecting capacity or our behavior would be rather a detriment to long term survival.