Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Type



Eberly College of Arts and Sciences



Committee Chair

Aaron Metzger

Committee Co-Chair

Erin Cassese

Committee Member

William Fremouw

Committee Member

Natalie Shook

Committee Member

Nicholas Turiano


Adolescents' beliefs about laws are a critical component of their emerging political reasoning, which is hypothesized to guide political decisions in adulthood. Laws serve a variety of purposes by restricting certain social behaviors. However, little is known about the types of laws adolescents view as important and obligatory to obey, or the amount of punishment that should be received for breaking different laws. Identifying individual differences in these beliefs may help elucidate the developmental origins of political attitudes. Therefore, the current study had three primary goals. The first goal was to utilize social domain theory to assess adolescents' judgments and justifications about different types of laws. The second goal was to examine associations among teens' judgments about laws and other dimensions of their political reasoning, including their broader value systems concerning authority and hierarchy. The third goal was to test whether their factual assumptions about laws, authority, and society were associated with both teens' beliefs about laws and their broader value systems.;To address these aims, 340 adolescents (9th -- 12th graders; M age = 16.64 years, SD = 1.37) were recruited from a mid-Atlantic high school. Using self-report questionnaires and vignettes, adolescents reported on their beliefs about laws hypothesized to regulate moral (e.g., stealing), conventional (e.g., registering one's car), personal (e.g., joining out of school activities), prudential (e.g., wearing a helmet), and personal/conventional multifaceted issues (e.g., loitering). Additionally, teens were assessed on their sociopolitical values (right-wing authoritarianism, RWA; social dominance orientation, SDO; and religious fundamentalism, RF) and informational assumptions (efficacy of laws, individual attributions of crime, belief in a dangerous world).;As hypothesized, adolescents distinguished between the types of laws in their judgments and justifications. Adolescent girls had more supportive beliefs about laws regulating prudential issues. RWA values were positively associated with judgments about laws regulating personal, prudential, and personal/prudential multifaceted issues. Additionally, SDO values were negatively associated with judgments about laws regulating moral and prudential issues. Teens' informational assumptions were also associated with their judgments about laws and sociopolitical values. While assumptions about individual attributions of crime were associated with more positive beliefs about laws regulating moral, conventional, personal, and personal/conventional multifaceted issues, assumptions about the efficacy of laws and perceptions of a dangerous world were associated with more supportive judgments about laws regulating prudential issues. Additionally, stronger endorsement of the efficacy of laws, individual attributions of crime, and belief in a dangerous world were associated with greater RWA values.;This study extends previous research on adolescents' political understanding by examining the intersection between multiple facets of teens' political reasoning. Findings contribute to research on sociopolitical values by demonstrating differential coordination among specific values and domain beliefs. Additionally, this research demonstrates the importance of examining adolescents' emerging beliefs, values, and assumptions about laws to better understand their emerging political reasoning.