shutterstock_171494870Last week, when Justin Bieber pleaded no contest to a charge of misdemeanor vandalism in his highly-publicized egg throwing barrage on a neighbor’s home earlier this year, it was the most recent of a rash of run-ins with the law for the 20 year-old Canadian singer-songwriter.

The precocious pop star’s growing rap sheet over the last two years, including charges of DUI, assault, and vandalism, has even casual observers wondering why.

When Bieber burst onto the show business scene a few years ago, his handlers carefully cultivated a harmless, non-threatening, squeaky-clean “boy next door” image. He was a worldwide sensation, with stratospheric sales, and amassed an amazing 40 million Twitter followers among the way.

But Justin Bieber wasn’t in our collective consciousness long before a new persona emerged: the bad boy. Spreading tattoos and gold chains de rigueur. Cynics cited Bieber’s newly adopted, reckless rule-breaking behavior as a manipulated marketing strategy to create “street cred” to usher the baby-faced Canadian into the ranks of real rap stars.

The actual answer for Bieber’s boundary-busting could be biological.

Many of us who flippantly follow the entertaining antics of teen performers tend to forget they’re actually adolescents. They’re negotiating a challenging phase of human development that’s frequently characterized by risk-taking, emotional pain, and outrageous, attention-getting behavior. Add to that unending adulation and material excess.

Dr. Richard A. Friedman, professor of Clinical Psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College, recently wrote in the New York Times (“Why Teenagers Act Out”, June 28, 2014) that different regions of the brain mature at different rates.  A vital area in regulating human behavior is the prefrontal cortex.

This brain region is responsible for what’s called executive function. It’s where our decisions are made, we enact problem-solving, it’s the seat of our personality expression, and where we moderate social behavior.

If we apply neuroscience to attempt to localize the area of the brain where Justin Bieber’s bad behavior is centered, the prefrontal cortex would be a good guess. Research indicates this critical area matures around the age of 25.

Further complicating matters, according to Dr. Friedman, the brain’s reward center matures much earlier. This brain region drives much of an adolescent’s risky behavior. For a typical teen, according to the psychiatrist, acting out is actually rewarding.

What this all means is, in terms of human development, for an adolescent like Justin Bieber, his brain, like that of others his age, is relatively underdeveloped when it comes to calm, reasoned rational decision-making.

This doesn’t excuse Bieber’s bad behavior but it may help explain it.  If we trust this neuroscience explanation, the next time he’s in the headlines for some scandalous scenarios, instead reacting with anger or frustration, our response instead might be understanding, compassion and support. It won’t be long before Justin Bieber’s prefrontal cortex matures or, in other words, he grows out of it.

Justin Bieber image available from Shutterstock.