Cognitive Distortions


Cognitive Distortions

These are errors in the way an individual thinks, which can be used to explain how criminals justify their behaviour.

Examples include:
- Hostile attribution bias.
- Minimalisation.

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Hostile Attribution Bias

A tendency to misinterpret the actions of others, seeing them as hostile or confrontational when they are not. This serves as a trigger for possible aggressive behaviour.

Schonenberg and Justye (2014) showed violent offenders emotionally ambiguous faces, finding that the participants were more likely to perceive the expressions as angry or hostile, compared to a matched control group. Such interpretations may have been learned in childhood.

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Denying or downplaying the seriousness of an offence.

This may involve using euphemisms ('job' rather than 'robbery').

Pollock and Hashmall (1991) found that 35% of a sample of child molesters tried to justify their actions by claiming they were 'showing affection' or that the child consented.

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Evaluation of Cognitive Distortions

+ The theory of cognitive distortions has proved useful in treating criminal behaviour. Through CBT, offenders can be encouraged to confront the seriousness of their actions, and research has found that successfully overcoming denial is correlated with lower rates of re-offending. This gives the cognitive explanation a useful real-world application.

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