Increasing the Elicitation of Truthful Information From Young Suspects: An Empirical Investigation of the Effects of Temporal Discounting

Andrea Arndorfer, Florida International University


The criminal justice system relies heavily on eliciting truthful information from suspects to solve crimes. A paramount problem with this approach involves the questioning of young suspects. Numerous studies support the conclusion that youth is a risk factor for providing false information during police questioning. The present study examined the influence of temporal discounting (the tendency for individual's behavior to be influenced more strongly by proximal than distal factors; Berns, Laibson, & Loewenstein, 2007; Critchfield & Kollins, 2001) and other developmental factors (i.e., impulse control, future orientation, and sensation seeking) thought to underlie youths' increased interrogative vulnerability. In line with previous research examining developmental differences in confession decisions, it was predicted that youth would be more likely than adults to provide false admissions to escape the immediate consequences of the situation. Furthermore, it was predicted that youth demonstrating lower impulse control, deficits in future orientation, and increased sensation seeking would be most likely to engage in this tendency. Using a randomized experimental design 205 adult and youth participants were questioned about their engagement in 20 criminal and unethical behaviors. Participants were told responding "yes" or "no" to these questions would have either immediate consequences (i.e., answering a series of repetitive questions) or future consequences (i.e., meeting with a police officer in a few weeks). Analyses revealed evidence of temporal discounting: Participants provided more admissions when denials, rather than admissions, were punished with immediate consequences. Contrary to hypotheses, age, impulse control, future orientation and sensation seeking did not moderate this relationship. Similarly, hypotheses regarding the relationship between age group, impulse control, and future orientation were unsupported. Compared to adults, adolescents did not exhibit less impulse control or future orientation. The current study was the first to experimentally examine factors thought to underlie youths' increased proclivity to provide false information in interrogation. Justice system involved youth may differ from youth in the current study in key ways that help explain the lack of support for study hypotheses. Because of these differences, it is imperative that future research focuses on youth who are most at risk of encountering the justice system as suspects.

Subject Area

Developmental psychology|Psychology|Criminology

Recommended Citation

Arndorfer, Andrea, "Increasing the Elicitation of Truthful Information From Young Suspects: An Empirical Investigation of the Effects of Temporal Discounting" (2016). ProQuest ETD Collection for FIU. AAI10743432.