©2018 T.M. Zottoli



We are interested in identifying and explaining behavioral differences in the ways that adolescents and adults make decisions in legal contexts. The overarching goal of our work is to encourage developmentally appropriate juvenile and criminal justice policies that promote rehabilitation of young offenders and maximize the long-term benefit to society. Adolescents have more difficulty than adults countering dysregulating influences in stressful and time-pressured situations and few situations are as fraught with pressure and emotion as being prosecuted for a serious crime. As a result, adolescents may be at increased risk for poor decision making during the pre-adjudicative and adjudicative process.  


Currently, our work centers on guilty plea decision making, with specific emphasis on contextual factors that may put youth at risk for pleading guilty when innocent.


95% of all criminal cases are resolved by guilty plea, yet our knowledge of the guilty plea process pales in comparison to what is known about trial processes. In our lab, we are primarily interested in understanding guilty plea decision making on the part of defendants, with a particular interest in what factors might contribute to innocent defendants pleading guilty.  Current projects examine differences in youth and adult plea decisions, the effects of trial penalty, plea discount and the likelihood of conviction on plea decisions and differences in the ways that innocent and guilty participants evaluate evidence against them.  


 (LINK to Guilty Plea Project Coming Soon!)


We use Event Related Potential (ERP) techniques to study brain development during adolescence in an effort to understand normative changes in decision making and risk taking during this period. The brain undergoes substantial structural and functional change during the decade of adolescence, and understanding these changes may contribute to the development of more effective educational and rehabilitative services, as well as to novel approaches that might mitigate negative outcomes for individuals at high risk for engaging in harmful behaviors. Presently, we are investigating the neural correlates of feedback processing and their relationship to executive function and decision making under conditions of uncertainty in adolescents and young adults.


Dr. Zottoli has tertiary interests in attitude change, communication of science, forensic assessment and statistical modelling, which has fostered collaborations outside her primary research areas.