(Im)maturity of judgment in adolescence: why adolescents may be less culpable than adults

Behav Sci Law. 2000;18(6):741-60. doi: 10.1002/bsl.416.


A crucial step in the establishment of effective policies and regulations concerning legal decisions involving juveniles is the development of a complete understanding of the many factors-psychosocial as well as cognitive-that affect the evolution of judgment over the course of adolescence and into adulthood. This study examines the influence of three psychosocial factors (responsibility, perspective, and temperance) on maturity of judgment in a sample of over 1,000 participants ranging in age from 12 to 48 years. Participants completed assessments of their psychosocial maturity in the aforementioned domains and responded to a series of hypothetical decision-making dilemmas about potentially antisocial or risky behavior. Socially responsible decision making is significantly more common among young adults than among adolescents, but does not increase appreciably after age 19. Individuals exhibiting higher levels of responsibility, perspective, and temperance displayed more mature decision-making than those with lower scores on these psychosocial factors, regardless of age. Adolescents, on average, scored significantly worse than adults, but individual differences in judgment within each adolescent age group were considerable. These findings call into question recent arguments, derived from studies of logical reasoning, that adolescents and adults are equally competent and that laws and social policies should treat them as such.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior / psychology*
  • Adult
  • Child
  • Decision Making*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Judgment*
  • Juvenile Delinquency*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Social Responsibility
  • Surveys and Questionnaires