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PRESS RELEASE: Professor Adriana Galván’s Research Considered in Court Ruling on Sentencing “Emerging Adults”

Los Angeles, Calif., January 11, 2024–Today, the highest court in Massachusetts made the state the first in the country to eliminate life sentences without the possibility of parole in any circumstances for “emerging adults.” The ruling cited the research and testimony of UCLA Center for the Developing Adolescent Co-Executive Director professor Adriana Galván.

The court released its opinion in Commonwealth v. Mattis, holding that sentencing individuals to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for a crime committed when they were 18 to 20 years old violates the Commonwealth’s constitution. The practice of sentencing youth under the age of 18 to life without the possibility of parole was struck down by the same court in 2015.

In its reasoning, the court in Mattis considered “updated research on the brains of emerging adults.” In doing so, it relied heavily on information from leading neuroscientists and psychologists studying adolescent brain development, including Dr. Galván, finding that science indicates differences between emerging adults and older adults in impulse control, risk taking in pursuit of reward, peer influence on risky behavior, and capacity for change.

The ruling specifically cited Dr. Galván’s testimony about her research as well as other research in the field using fMRI that showed greater activity in regions associated with sensation seeking and risk-taking behaviors in youth up to 21 years of age compared to older adults, as well as additional research from Dr. Galvan regarding impulse control and peer influence on risk taking behavior. It also considered the science regarding late adolescents’ capacity for change, and Dr. Galván’s explanation of the adolescent years as a “second wave” of plasticity.

“We have learned so much in the past few years about how our brains develop during adolescence, and how they continue to develop into early adulthood,” said Dr. Galvan. “It’s exciting to see our justice system applying what we’ve learned about developmental science to better align policies with the capacities of young people.”

About Adriana Galván

Adriana holds a PhD in neuroscience and is a tenured professor of psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), the director of UCLA’s Developmental Neuroscience Lab, and the Co-Executive Director of UCLA Center for the Developing Adolescent. She has received numerous honors and awards, including the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers as well as the Troland Award from the National Academy of Sciences.

About the UCLA Center for the Developing Adolescent

The UCLA Center for the Developing Adolescent works to equitably improve adolescent health, education, and well-being. We do this by building bridges between research, programs, and policy.

Contact: Meghan Forder, Communications Director, 415-580-1975

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