Theoretical and Methodological Issues in Studying Children's Capacities in Legal Contexts
Publication Date: June 1996
Special Collection: John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
Keywords: Legal socialization; Maturity; Adjudicative competence; Juvenile justice
Coverage: United States
Understanding children's capacities in legal contexts is an urgent priority for psychology and the law. The distinction between capacity and performance is discussed in light of two research goals: (a) identifying children's capacities relevant to law; and (b) identifying the circumstances under which their performance varies. This discussion leads to three fundamental research issues that are explored. First, in addition to general capacity, the effect of specific legal contexts on performance requires investigation. Second, capacities research must take a developmental approach using appropriate, ecologically valid target and comparison samples. Third, legal standards and their inherent developmental assumptions about children's capacities must be operationalized and investigated from both legal and psychological perspectives.