Judgment theory identifies three developmental factors that explain why, when compared to adults, adolescents tend to make poorer choices: risk perception and preference, peer influence, and temporal perspective. According to judgment theory, adolescents are more sensitive to reward, and less sensitive to the idea of potential punishment or harm. As an individual develops and becomes a young adult, the idea of potential harm or future loss begins to play a larger role in the decision making process. Throughout adolescence, the way peers perceive an individual becomes increasingly important, placing the individual at a higher risk of being negatively influenced compared to adult counterparts. Furthermore, adolescents are more likely to identify the short-term benefits, instead of the potential long-term consequences; even when the long-term implications are identified, an adolescent has less capacity to appropriately weigh the short and long-term consequences. Deficits caused by these three developmental factors slowly begin to taper off as the individual reaches adulthood. This may help explain why crime tends to rise in early adolescence, with a peak in late adolescence, and begins slowly fading in young adulthood.
The executive function, defined as a group of “…deliberate, top-down neurocognitive processes involved in the conscious, goal-directed control of thought, action, and emotion” is not fully developed until early adulthood, and is responsible for controlling processes involved in planning, self-regulating, goal selection, and attention. The dual systems model builds on the theories stated above, and proposes that the two main neurocognitive brain systems, located in the prefrontal cortex and throughout the limbic system, develop on different timetables; this suggests that the adolescent brain actually predisposes the individual to certain behaviors if a heightened affective response is involved.
The prefrontal cortex, which is slower to develop, plays a significant role in decision-making, future planning, working memory, and response inhibition, which is the ability to consciously suppress a behavior or response that is primed to occur based off past experience, in certain situations. The limbic system, also referred to as the socio-emotional system, is active during various tasks involving risk, reward, and motivation; it is also responsible for regulating emotional responses during times of stress in which the ability to effectively reason is required. The continued research on the differences in the juvenile brain has gained credibility in the legal system and has been acknowledged in many recent legal decisions.
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