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Who’s to Blame: The Teenage Brain or The Teenage Offender? A Field Experiment at a London Theatre

Wed, Nov 16, 3:30 to 4:50pm, Hilton, Starboard, Riverside Complex


This study tested the effects of public engagement in neuroscience on attitudes towards young offenders. Brainstorm is a play about teenage brain development, showing at the National Theatre in London from 29th March to 2nd April 2016. Across six performances of the play, up to 1,350 participants will respond to four questions about youth crime either before or after watching the play. This experiment will test the effects of three independent variables: exposure to neuroscience, the age of the described offender and the number of prior offences committed by the offender.

It is hypothesised that Brainstorm will reduce punitiveness towards young offenders. Specifically, we expect Brainstorm to increase the recommended age of criminal responsibility, weaken attributions of moral responsibility to young (relative to adult) and repeat (relative to first-time) offenders, and reduce the expected probability that the described offender will reoffend – a measure of lay belief in the age-crime curve. Finally, the study will test whether Brainstorm changes attitudes only towards young offenders or also towards adult offenders. It is concluded that public engagement in the newest arrival to the criminological block – neuroscience – influences the perceived appropriateness of different youth justice responses.