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  • Theories of Cognition Yolchelson and Samenow, Kohlberg, Gudjohnsson and Bownes.
  • The theory of cognition. • The basic assumption with cognition is that criminals think in a fundamentally different way to law- abiding citizens. They must be able to rationalise their own behaviours and decide that the risks involved are worth the possible gains. • The biggest problem here is that we can never accurately know what another person is thinking.
  • Yolchelson and Samenow A study of thinking patterns in criminals
  • Background: • The evidence base for criminal thinking patterns as been heavily influenced by the work of two doctors working with criminals in a mental hospital. • Yolchelson and Samenow profiled and counselled male offenders using psychodynamic techniques- Freudian.
  • Aims: • To understand the make up of the criminal personality. • To establish techniques that could be used to alter the personality disorders that produce crime. • To encourage an understanding of legal responsibility. • To establish techniques that an be effective in preventing criminal behaviour.
  • Participants: • 255 male participants. • From a variety of backgrounds; black, white, inner cities, suburbs, wealthy, poor, etc. • They were all evaluated. • Composed of those confined to the hospital and had been found guilty of their crimes because of insanity. • Another group of roughly equal numbers who were not confined to the institution. • Most dropped out of the study, with only 30 completing it.
  • Methodology: • Longitudinal study over 14 years. • A series of interviews conducted over 7 years.
  • Findings: • According to the results, criminals: – Are restless, dissatisfied and irritable. – While at school, considered requests from their teachers and parents as impositions. – Continually set themselves apart from others. – Want to live a life of excitement, at any cost. – Are habitually angry. – Lack empathy. – Feel under no obligation to anyone to anything except their own interests. – Are poor at responsible decision making, having pre- judged the situation.
  • Findings: • Yolchelson and Samenow suggest that criminals have quite distinct and erroneous thinking patterns which differentiate from non-criminals. • They further suggest that offenders have cognitive processes which lead to a distorted self-image and result not only in crime but in a denial of responsibility.
  • Findings: The criminal personality: • They described the criminal personality as being categorised by 40 thinking errors which fall into 3 broad categories: – Criminal thinking patterns; characterised by fear and a need for power and control. A search for perfection, lying and inconsistencies in thinking. – Automatic thinking errors; A lack of empathy and trust. A failure to accept obligations and a perception of themselves as the victim. – Crime related thinking errors; optimistic fantasising about specific criminal acts with no regard to deterrent factors.
  • Conclusions: • Criminals are essentially in control of their lives and their criminality is the result of choices made from an early age. • Criminals are not necessarily impulsive, they have planned and fantasised about their actions and it is these thinking patterns that need to be confronted and treated.
  • Note to consider: • As stated earlier, of the 255 participants, most dropped out of the study, with only 30 completing the whole series of interviews. • It was also noted that only 9 genuinely changed as a result of the study.
  • Issues: • No control group – It is difficult to say that the identified thinking patterns just belong to criminals • Social desirability – Interviewing participants could lead to them lying and giving answers that they believe make them seem less or more of a criminal • Generalisability – A wide range of backgrounds means that it can be applied to a wider range of criminals. • Reliability – Only 30 out of 255 completed the study – Gender bias – Only used convicts that pleaded insanity.
  • Debates: • Andocentric – An all male sample • Free will vs Determinism – Your thinking patterns make you a criminal
  • Kohlberg Moral development in children.
  • Background: • Morals are a set of norms and values, usually learnt from our parents about what is right and wrong. • In the UK, the age of criminal responsibility is 10 as it is this age where they are deemed to clearly know the difference between right and wrong. • Kohlberg was heavily influenced by the work of Piaget and believed that childrens cognition developed in stages.
  • The Heinz Dilemma: • Heinz’s wife was suffering from terminal cancer. In an effort to save her, he went to a chemist who had developed a cure which might help her. Unfortunately, the chemist wanted much more money for his cure than Heinz could afford and refused to sell it for any less. Even when Heinz borrowed enough money for half the cost of the drug, the chemist still refused to sell it to him. Having no other means of getting the drug, Heinz broke into the laboratory and stole it….
  • Think about it…. • Should Heinz have broken into the lab? Why? • Should the chemist have insisted on the inflated price for his invention? Does he have the right? • What should happen to Heinz? • What if Heinz did not love his wife? Does that change anything? • What if the dying person was a stranger? Should he have stolen the drug then?
  • The dilemma: • The Heinz dilemma is one of Kohlberg’s main dilemma which he showed to his participants to ask questions such as these too. • Discuss your answers with the class, how do they differ?
  • Aim: • To find evidence in support of progression through stages of moral development.
  • Participants: • 58 working and middle class boys from Chicago. • Aged 7, 10, 13 and 16 years. • Each boy was given a 2 hour interviews with 10 different dilemmas that they had to solve. Some of the boys were followed up at 3 yearly intervals until the age of 30-36. • This made it a longitudinal study.
  • Findings- Morality stages: Level 1 Pre-morality Stage 1 Punishment and obedience- Doing what is right because of fear of punishment Stage 2 Hedonistic orientation- Doing what is right for personal gain, perhaps a reward Level 2 Conventional morality Stage 3 Interpersonal concordance- Doing what is right according to the majority Stage 4 Law and order orientation- Doing what is right because it is your duty and helps society Level 3 Post-conventional morality Stage 5 Social contract- Doing what is morally right even if it is against the law Stage 6 Universal ethical principles- Doing what is right because of our inner conscience
  • Findings: • Younger boys tended to perform at stages 1 and 2 with older boys at 3 and 4. This suggests support for development through stages. • These patterns were consistent in the cross- cultural studies, although progression was slower in industrialised societies. • No support was found for stage 6 in this sample, Kohlberg later revised his reviews and agreed that there may not be a separate stage 6.
  • Conclusions: • The evidence does support the idea of a stage theory and the idea that people commit crimes because they lack moral reasoning. • More recent research by Thornton and Reid with criminal samples suggest that criminals committing crime for financial gain show more immature reasoning than those committing violent crimes.
  • Issues: • Generalisability – Gender bias • Interviews – Social desirability as not wanting to be seen as lacking morals – A 2 hour interviews on young boys- 7- may lead to demand characteristics as they get bored and start to give answers for the sake of it.
  • Gudjohnnson and Bownes The attribution of blame and type of crime committed.
  • Background: • We all justify and explain our behaviours using either internal or external attributions. • An internal attribution is when a person accepts full responsibility for their own behaviour and sees the cause as being within themselves. • An external attribution is when a person sees the cause of their behaviour as being an external factor- “I was provoked, it’s his fault I hit him.” • A criminal is considered rehabilitated when they can fully accept responsibility for their crime and accept their guilt.
  • Aim: • To examine the relationship between the type of offence and the attributions offenders make about their criminal acts.
  • Participants: • 80 criminals who were serving sentences in Northern Ireland. • Divided into groups; – The first 20 had committed violent offences including homicide and GBH- mean age 29. – The second group had 40 sex offenders including rapists, paedophiles and sexual assault- mean age from 41-28. – The final group of 20 committed property offences including theft and burglary. Mean age 29. • All asked to fill out a 42 item Blame Attribution Inventory
  • Results- Mean scores on GBAI: Type of offence Guilt Mental element External attribution Violence 8.1 5.3 5.8 Sexual 12.7 5.7 2.4 Property 5.5 .0 3.0
  • Findings: • Those who committed sexual offences showed more remorse about their behaviour, this was followed by those who had committed violent acts against a person. • Very little difference was found in the mental element scores for all offenders. • With external attribution, the highest scores were found for violent offenders and the lowest for sexual offenders. • When comparing the English findings from this study with violent Irish prisoners, the Irish violent prisoners showed a lower mental element, lower guilt and higher external attribution scores.
  • Conclusions: • The findings show a strong consistency with earlier findings across the offender groups, suggesting that there is a strong consistency in the way offenders attribute blame for their crimes across the two countries. • The only real difference was in the violent prisoners which may have resulted from the violent prevalent in Northern Ireland.