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Am Psychol. 2009 Oct;64(7):595-600; discussion 601-4. doi: 10.1037/a0017105.

Narrow assessments misrepresent development and misguide policy: comment on Steinberg, Cauffman, Woolard, Graham, and Banich (2009).

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  • 1Dynamic Development Laboratory, Human Development & Psychology, Harvard Graduate School of Education, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA.


Intellectual and psychosocial functioning develop along complex learning pathways. Steinberg, Cauffman, Woolard, Graham, and Banich (see record 2009-18110-001) measured these two classes of abilities with narrow, biased assessments that captured only a segment of each pathway and created misleading age patterns based on ceiling and floor effects. It is a simple matter to shift the assessments to produce the opposite pattern, with cognitive abilities appearing to develop well into adulthood and psychosocial abilities appearing to stop developing at age 16. Their measures also lacked a realistic connection to the lived behaviors of adolescents, abstracting too far from messy realities and thus lacking ecological validity and the nuanced portrait that the authors called for. A drastically different approach to assessing development is required that (a) includes the full age-related range of relevant abilities instead of a truncated set and (b) examines the variability and contextual dependence of abilities relevant to the topics of murder and abortion.

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