Farrington et al. - Turning to Crime (A2 Psychology - Forensic)

Farrington study. A2 psychology, OCR. Turning to Crime. Sub section 1 of OCRs 'Forensic' Module.

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Farrington et al.

The Cambridge Study in Delinquent Development


  • To document the start, duration and end of offending behaviour in families.
  • To investigate the influence of life events and family background, and the risk and protective factors predicting antisocial behaviour. 

Design: An ongoing longitudinal survey. In the latest report, data was gathered from the participants at age 48yrs.

Participants: 411 males, aged 8 - 9yrs (born 1953/4). From 6 state schools in East London. Predominantly white/working class. 397 families were involved, 14 brothers and 5 twins. 394 participants were still alive at age 48yrs, and 93% were interviewed (365). 

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Farrington et al - Results

  • At age 48, 161 of the 404 participants searched had convictions.
  • The number of offenders/offences peaked at 17yrs, followed by 18yrs.
  • Of those who started criminal careers at 10-13yrs, 91% were reconvicted at least once, and averaged 9 crimes, in comparison to 6 if they had begun at age 14-16yrs. These two groups commited at total of 77% of the crimes in this study. 
  • 93% admitted to committing one type of crime at least once in their lives.
  • 7% of males in the study were labelled 'chronic offenders', as they accounted for around 50% of all the crimes in the study, and their criminal careers spanned, on average, 21 years (14-35yrs)
  • Most 'chronic offenders' shared childhood characteristics. 'Persisters' as described by Farrington (convicted before/after 21st bday) and compared with non-offenders are more likely to have: A convicted parent/sibling, large/disrupted family, young mother, low popularity and high daring
  • The proportion of participants leading successful lives (at least 6/9 life success criteria) rose from 78% at 32yrs to 88% at 48 yrs (persisters: rose to 65% between 32yrs and 48yrs)
  • Desisters were no different in life success from the unconvicted.
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Conclusions: Farrington concluded that offenders are often deviant in multiple aspects of their lives. Early prevention  that reduces offending could reap major benefits in multiple areas; accommodation, relationships, employment, alcohol/drugs and aggressive behaviour. Major risk factors are: Poor child-rearing/criminality in the family, impulsiveness, poverty and poor school performance.

Evaluation:  Longitudinal survey  

  • Self-report data - Socially desirable/Demand characteristics = Validity?
  • In depth but qual. data more difficult to interpret = subjective. Reliability?


  • White/male/working class/London - Ethnocentrically+Gender Biased
  • 411, large sample - representative?


  • Usefulness?/Generalisable?/Ethnocentric?Representative?
  • Nature Vs Nurture/Individual Vs Situational/Determinism/Free Will
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