The development of decision-making capacities in children and adolescents: psychological and neurological perspectives and their implications for juvenile defendants

Behav Sci Law. 2009 Mar-Apr;27(2):173-90. doi: 10.1002/bsl.859.


The development of decision-making capacities in children and adolescents has been a topic of interest for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Questions regarding the development of decision-making capacities (and moral reasoning) of youth frequently arise in juvenile justice settings, other forensic settings, and sometimes in treatment settings. This article attempts to review the latest and most relevant research on the development of decision-making capacities likely to be relevant in children and adolescents who are defendants. We distinguish cognition versus judgment in decision-making and briefly review adolescent decision-making in laboratory and real world conditions. We review a theoretical framework of two different systems, a cognitive-control system and socio-emotional system, and potentially correlated neurobiological and psychological findings. Implications for selected aspects of the juvenile adjudicative process are discussed.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Affect
  • Age Factors
  • Brain / physiopathology*
  • Child
  • Cognition
  • Decision Making*
  • Exploratory Behavior
  • Health Behavior
  • Humans
  • Judgment
  • Juvenile Delinquency / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Juvenile Delinquency / psychology*
  • Limbic System / physiopathology
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Risk-Taking
  • Social Behavior Disorders / psychology
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United States
  • Young Adult