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the prison conditions described in Part III above, special care should be taken when assessing the
effects of incarceration on juveniles, who differ from adults in the following areas: decision-making, impulsivity, vulnerability, and cognitive development.74
Decision-making encompasses a juvenile’s “cognitive, emotional, and social factors that
influence how [they] process information and arrive at conclusions.”75 More specifically, decision-making encompasses a juvenile’s ability to evaluate future consequences, weigh costs and benefits,
and identify risks.76 Research indicates that social and emotional factors strongly affect juveniles,
partly because psychosocial maturity develops well into adulthood.77 Consequently, when faced
with decisions that may have criminal consequences, juveniles are affected by social and emotional
factors, which are not experienced in the same degree by adults.78
Impulsivity is an individual’s “predisposition toward rapid, unplanned reactions to internal or
external stimuli without regard to the negative consequences of these reactions . . . .”79 A natural
consequence of an underdeveloped decision-making ability is impulsivity.80 A juvenile’s tendency
towards impulsivity is perhaps most prevalent when faced with a choice between an immediate,
small reward or a delayed relatively larger reward.81 The tendency towards instant gratification
declines as an adolescent reaches his or her mid-twenties.82
Children and adolescents are an especially vulnerable population in terms of cognitive ability
and emotion regulation.83 Adolescents have a diminished ability to think and reason independently,
and often have a poor self-image and low self-esteem.84 This is why adolescents consistently look
to others for validation and approval, helping to explain why peer pressure can be particularly
74 Levick et al., supra note 28, at 293.
77 Id. at 293–94. Emotions can shape a juvenile’s decision-making in three possible ways, categorized by researchers
as: “(1) anticipated emotional outcomes, (2) anticipatory emotions, and (3) incidental emotions.” Id. The authors
explain these three factors in more detail below:
First, individuals may choose to perform particular behaviors in a given situation by evaluating the
anticipated emotional outcomes of various behavioral options. Behaviors that seem likely to increase
positive emotions tend to become more desirable, even if they carry with them a degree of risk.
Second, individuals’ direct emotional responses to various behaviors also may guide their decision-making. For instance, individuals tend to approach behavioral situations to which they have positive
emotional responses and avoid those situations that evoke negative emotions. Finally, incidental,
or background, emotions can influence judgments about the risk or desirability of certain behavioral
Id. at 294.
78 See supra notes 35–40 (citing the Supreme Court’s explanation for treating juveniles differently than adults in
79 Levick et al., supra note 28, at 294.
83 Id. at 296–97. Judges should be aware of emotional challenges facing the youth that come into their courts:
Adolescents tend to demonstrate difficulties recognizing and expressing feelings, managing their
emotions, and coping with undesirable feelings . . . . Factors such as childhood maltreatment,
maternal depression, exposure to violence, and economic deprivation are associated with poor
emotion regulation ( i.e., emotion “dysregulation”) in children and adolescents.
Id. at 296.