Prefrontal Functions in Juvenile Delinquents

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Arnold P. Goldstein


Wisconsin Card Sorting Test, Intellectual abilities, Interpersonal problem solving

Subject Categories



The idea that deficient prefrontal lobe functioning may be a useful concept in understanding some juvenile delinquent behavior is popular in current research. However, to date, research had not assessed delinquents' performance on a series of objective measures empirically related to prefrontal lobe functioning. This study examined the performance of 30 delinquents and 30 nondelinquents on a comprehensive battery of measures designed to assess intellectual abilities subserved by the prefrontal cortex. Measures of nonprefrontal cognitive abilities, including three motor measures, two nonprefrontal verbal measures and a measure of visuo-constructive abilities, were included to rule out diffuse brain damage. A second goal of this study was to use a test of interpersonal problem solving to examine correlates of objective measures of prefrontal lobe functions.

Delinquents and nondelinquents failed to show significant differences in performance on the Wisconsin Card Sorting Test, a measure which has consistently proven sensitive to prefrontal lobe impairments. Similarly, no evidence of deficit performance in the delinquent group relative to the nondelinquent group was found for Porteus Mazes, Verbal Fluency, Grip Strength, Finger Tapping, Purdue Pegboard, the Token Test, the Logical-Spatial Relationship Test, and the Benton Visual Retention Test. Delinquents did not perform more poorly than nondeliquents on the measure of interpersonal problem solving (the Means-Ends Problem Solving Procedure), nor was a relationship found between the measures of prefrontal lobe functions and the MEPS procedure.

The delinquents in the present study were not violent and, by virtue of the fact that they had been chosen for a treatment facility, may be less impulsive or cognitively impaired than delinquents in other institutions. Nevertheless, the evidence suggests that delinquent subjects are not comparable to prefrontal-lesion patients, and that attributions of prefrontal lobe dysfunction to adolescents who engage in criminal activity may be premature.