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A Study of Interactions: Emerging Issues in the Science of Adolescence - Workshop Summary
lighted several emerging fields of research and identified a number of promising areas for further study. Participants also explored the differences among the theoretical and developmental frameworks that govern different kinds of research—and these differences were identified as a key impediment to the kinds of synthesis and cross-fertilization that are needed. In several contexts participants noted that connections between research and the needs of practitioners and others who work with teens are insufficient, yet badly needed. Each of these points contributed to a shared sense of the urgent importance of finding ways to synthesize and apply existing and developing knowledge.
Many speakers recognized the formidable challenge that was inherent in producing a synthesis of the diverse body of research on adolescent health and development, if only because of the significant variations in the theoretical models that characterize these fields. Dennis Bier spoke, for example, about the gaps between the conceptual approaches characteristic of biological and social sciences, using evident contrasts among some of the models that were presented. For example, models that are descriptive and qualitative may capture important but poorly understood complex processes, whereas models that are quantifiable and can be described mathematically offer a basis for experimental tests. He noted that some of the descriptive models presented at the workshop were quite complex and did not readily lend themselves to experimentation with the scientific methods characteristic of his own field, isotope kinetic modeling. In many cases, he pointed out, researchers in different fields may not even use common terms or understand commonly used terms in the same way.
Bier suggested that the possibilities for linking behavior, biology, and social context are intriguing and promising. Nevertheless, he pointed to what might be viewed as the two ends of a continuum that ranges from qualitative research focused on such concepts as competence and connectedness to quantitative research, such as that done in molecular biology, with its breakthroughs regarding inaccessible regions of the brain, hormonal processes, and the use of techniques such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and positron emission tomography (PET) scanning. His concern was with the absence of an overarching framework that would help reconcile very different methodological approaches and standards of evidence.
Ron Dahl, in contrast, pointed out that the study of adolescence has been interdisciplinary from the start, as the title of the foundational 1904 text by G. Stanley Hall demonstrates: Adolescence: Its Psychology and Its