Pragmatic implication in the interrogation room: a comparison of juveniles and adults

Allison D. Redlich*, Reveka V. Shteynberg, Laura H. Nirider

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Objectives: Pragmatic implication is the phenomenon that individuals process information “between the lines” and hear things that are implied but not asserted. In interrogation settings, whereas explicit statements of leniency are impermissible, implicit statements are allowed. In this study, we compare juveniles’ and adults’ perceptions of interrogator statements of explicit and implicit leniency, in effect examining pragmatic implication. Methods: Samples of juveniles and young adults were randomly assigned to an explicit leniency, implicit leniency, or no leniency (control) condition. Participants were read a hypothetical interrogation of a suspect and then asked questions about whether the suspect should confess, possible outcomes, and perceptions about fairness, pressure, etc. Results: Regardless of age, participants were about three times more likely to recommend the suspect confess when leniency was explicitly or implicitly mentioned than when leniency was not introduced. For sentencing expectations, a significant effect of leniency, in the manner predicted, was found for adults but not juveniles. Several differences were also found between juveniles and adults; for example, juveniles perceived the interrogator as significantly fairer than adults in the explicit and implicit leniency conditions, but not in the no leniency condition. Conclusions: As a first step in examining the influence of pragmatic implication for juveniles in interrogation settings, this study makes an important contribution. The primary limitation is that participants responded to a hypothetical situation, which allowed for experimental manipulation but may not generalize to actual interrogations involving juveniles and adults. More in situ studies of interrogation are encouraged.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)555-564
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Experimental Criminology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2020


  • Confession
  • Interrogation
  • Juveniles
  • Police
  • Pragmatic implication

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Law

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