The Role of Age in Plea Bargain Decision Making

44 Pages Posted: 31 Mar 2018

Date Written: March 26, 2018


Research has elucidated that defendants in criminal cases behave differently depending on their age. How age specifically affects plea bargain behavior, however, has only been sparsely investigated. In four studies, we observed that age influences whether lay individuals’ plea bargain decision making is concordant (i.e., accept plea bargains if guilty and opt for trial if innocent) or discordant (i.e., accept a plea bargain if innocent and opt for a trial if guilty) in ‘mock’ criminal scenarios. In line with emerging adults’ (18-28 years old) increased just-world beliefs and illusions of transparency, Study 1 provided indirect evidence that emerging adults’ plea bargain decision making is more concordant than mature adults (29-40). Study 2, however, found that this effect is dependent on the defendant’s likelihood of conviction. Studies 3 and 4 emulated Studies 1 and 2, however, they examined how parents of differently aged children advise their children regarding plea bargains decision making. Parents of younger children (8-11 years old) advised their child similarly to how they themselves would act. Parents of adolescents (12-18), on the other hand, adopted an entirely concordant approach, advising their adolescent child to behave according to their child’s culpability. Overall, we find that individuals’ approach to plea bargain decision making depends on their age group (or the age group of their children), culpability, and probability of conviction.

Keywords: Plea Bargains, Plea Bargain Decision Making, Age, Criminal Trials, Just World Beliefs, Illusions of Transparency, Psychology, Law

Suggested Citation

Gollwitzer, Anton, The Role of Age in Plea Bargain Decision Making (March 26, 2018). Available at SSRN: or

Anton Gollwitzer (Contact Author)

Yale University ( email )

P.O. Box 208205
New Haven, CT 06520-8205
United States

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