Criminal thinking patterns - Yochelson and Samenow

Moral development and crime - Kohlberg

Social Cognition - Gudjohnnson and Bownes 

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  • Created by: Amy Leech
  • Created on: 17-03-13 19:58

Yochelson and Samenow; study of thinking patterns

Background/Aim: to investigate whether criminals think differently to non- criminals.

Sample: Began with 255 criminals (half pleaded NGRI and institutionalised, half convicted criminals, not in mental hospital, referred to authors by outside agencies, e.g. courts; only 30 completed all planned interviews).

Method: Longitudinal study over 14 years, conducted by two doctors working in a mental hospital, using interviews based on Freudian therapy attempting to find root cause of offending in early life; focus of therapy changed over time to investigate thinking processes/cognitions. There was no control group.

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Yochelson and Samenow; study of thinking patterns

Results: 52 thinking errors were reported as being identified in the criminal personality, which fall into three main categories: 1) Crime related thinking errors, e.g. 'optimistic fantasising' and lyings; 2) Automatic thinking errors e.g. lack of empathy and trust and failure to accept personal obligations/think of themselves as a victim; 3) Criminal thinking patterns which typically exhibit the offender's need for power and control combined with fear. Authors conclude criminals are essentially in control of their lives and that offending is a result of choice made. They tend to have distorted self-image and typically deny responsibility.

Evaluation: The lack of a control group allows no confirmation that these thinking patterns exist only in offenders; however, this didn't start out as a research project. Validity problems and subject attrition means the very small sample is unreliable. Clinical interviews and longitudinal nature of the study means it can't be easily replicated to check for reliability and data is liable to interpretation for bias. The research started out looking for root causes of criminal behaviour in early life (psychodynamic). Criminal thinking patterns could be considered to be socially determined by learning from others (upbringing, peers etc.); however, could argue offenders make a choice (free-will). subject attrition, validity issues and a lack of control group means this cannot be considered very useful, however, cognitive skills programmes could be used to challenge irrational thinking.

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Kohlberg; Moral development in children

Background/Aim: Heavily influenced by Piaget's stages of development, Kohlberg aimed to find evidence to support his theory that moral development progresses through stages.

Sample: 72 boys from chicago, aged 10,13,16 (half in each group upper-middle class, half lower to lower-middle class), comparable on IQ (and 24 16 year old delinquents; 24 6 year olds and 50 boys and girls aged 13 from near Boston.

Method: Interviews, tape-recorded (two hours long, with 10 hypothetical moral dilemmas to solve, e.g. most famous was the Heinz dilemma). Longitudinal aspect as some boys were followed up in later work at three- yearly intervals (up to age 30-36).

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Kohlberg; Moral development in children

Results: Kohlberg's theory outlined three levels of morality: Pre-morality, Conventional morality and Post-Morality, each with two stages. Results confirmed that younger boys were operating at the earlier stages of morality (Stage 1 out fo fear of punishment; Stage 2 for personal gain). Older boys typically operated at later stages (Stage 3 doing right to be 'good'; Stage 4 obeying laws out of duty). Findings provide support for a stage theory of moral development. Later research by Kohlberg, conducted in different countries/cultures (UK, USA, Mexico, Taiwan, Turkey, Yucatan) confirmed stage theory across cultures.

Evaluation: There are many limitations: 1) Gender biased sample; 2) the fact that it is essentially a theory of moral thinking; 3) validity must be questioned given the use of self-reports, where socially desirable answers are likely to operate and also given both the length of interviews and the difficult nature of the dilemmas, particularly the younger participants (and therefore also question its usefulness).Stage theories can be considered as having some physiological maturational basis, nature debate although could argue that we learn morals from our main caregivers' learning - nurture.

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Gudjohnnson and Bownes; Attribution of blame and c

Background/Aim: To investigate the possible relationship between type of offence and offenders' attributions about their criminal behaviour and to make comparisions with previous research on an English sample of convicted offenders. 

Sample: 80 convicted offenders serving sentences in Northern Ireland. 20 violent offenders, mean age of 29. 40 sex offenders, paedophiles means age 41, others mean age 28. 20 property offenders, mean age 29.

Method: Questionnaire (GBAI) with 42 items (identifying i) offence; ii) attribution of blame - internal/external, iii) mental element and iv) guilt). Internal attributions (attribute cause of behaviour to themselves) and external (attritbute cause to a range of social factors/pressures within environment). An example of a 'mental-element' would be 'I was depressed', while 'guilt' considers wither remorse is expressed or not.

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Gudjohnnson and Bownes; Attribution of blame and c

Results: 'Sex offenders' expressed the most remorse, followed by 'violent' offenders. There was little difference across offence types regarding 'mental element' and highest scores on external attributions were from violent offenders and lowest for sex offenders. Results are consistent with English findings.

Evaluation: A serious limitation of self-report measures from offenders concerns validity as socially desirable responses/llying can be used to manipulate improved conditions, access to resources, etc. Identifying attributions can allow specific targeting of resources, e.g. offenders making internal attributions might be more open to rehabilitation/treatment programmes (e.g. cognitive behavioural therapy). However, question usefulness given validity problems. This research links to attribution theory and Locus of Control (Rotter).

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