Prior Probabilities and the Age Threshold Problem: First and Second Molar Development

Lyle W. Konigsberg, Susan R. Frankenberg, Valerie Sgheiza, Helen M. Liversidge

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Dental development has been used to assess whether an individual may be below or above an age that serves as a legal threshold. This study used development of the first and second mandibular molars from a large sample of individuals (N = 2,676) to examine the age threshold for minimum age of criminal responsibility. A bivariate ordered probit model was applied to dental scores following the Moorrees et al. (1963) system, with the addition of a crypt-absent/present stage. Then a 10-fold cross-validation within each of the sexes showed that the bivariate models produce unbiased estimates of age but are heteroskedastic (with increasing spread of the estimates against actual age). To address the age threshold problem, a normal prior centered on the threshold is assumed, and the product of the prior and the likelihood is integrated up to the age threshold and again starting at the age threshold. The ratio of these two integrals is a Bayes factor, which because the prior is symmetric around the threshold, can also be interpreted as the posterior odds that an individual is over versus under the age threshold. It was necessary to assume an unreasonably high standard deviation of age in the prior to achieve posterior odds that were well above “evens.” These results indicate that dental developmental evidence from the first and second molars is of limited use in examining the question of whether an individual is below or over the minimum age of criminal responsibility. As the third molar is more variable in its development than the first two molars, the question of dental evidence regarding the age of majority (generally 18 years) remains problematic.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)51-63
Number of pages13
JournalHuman biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 1 2021


  • Bayes factor
  • Bivariate ordinal probit
  • Dental formation
  • Minimum age of criminal responsibility
  • N-fold cross-validation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics
  • Genetics(clinical)


Dive into the research topics of 'Prior Probabilities and the Age Threshold Problem: First and Second Molar Development'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this