Distinguishing Male Juvenile Offenders through Personality Traits, Coping Strategies, Feelings of Guilt and Level of Anger

By Ferrer, Marta; Carbonell, Xavier et al. | The Spanish Journal of Psychology, July 1, 2010 | Go to article overview

Distinguishing Male Juvenile Offenders through Personality Traits, Coping Strategies, Feelings of Guilt and Level of Anger


Ferrer, Marta, Carbonell, Xavier, Sarrado, Joan Josep, Cebrià, Jordi, Virgili, Carles, Castellana, Montserrat, The Spanish Journal of Psychology


On the basis of a comparative, descriptive, cross-sectional study, our aim was to determine differential traits of adolescent offenders with respect to personality traits, feelings of guilt, level of anger, and coping strategies. 128 adolescent residents of Barcelona (86 high school students and 42 young inmates aged between 16 and 18 years) replied to a variety of questionnaires (SC-35, EPQ-R, STAXI, ACS). Significant differences between the two groups were found. Young offenders present higher levels of guilt feelings, neuroticism, psychoticism, and trait anger. They also tend to repress their anger or, on the contrary, express it verbally and physically and use passive or avoidance coping strategies. Education and psychological therapy focussed on guilt may contribute to reduce recidivism.

Keywords: adolescence, young offenders, coping strategies, anger, guilt.

A partir de un estudio comparativo, descriptivo y transversal, se pretende conocer algunos rasgos diferenciales de adolescentes infractores en relación a la personalidad, el sentimiento de culpa, el nivel de ira y las estrategias de afrontamiento. Se administraron el SC-35, el EPQ-R, el STAXI y el ACS a 128 adolescentes de Barcelona (86 estudiantes y 42 infractores institucionalizados, de edades comprendidas entre los 16 y 18 años). Se observaron diferencias significativas entre los grupos estudiados. Los jóvenes infractores presentan niveles más elevados de culpa, neuroticismo, psicoticismo e ira rasgo. Así mismo, tienden a reprimir la ira o, por el contrario, a expresarla verbal y físicamente y acostumbran a utilizar estrategias de afrontamiento pasivas o de carácter evitativo. El trabajo psicológico y educativo sobre la culpa puede reducir la reincidencia.

Palabras clave: adolescencia, delincuencia juvenil, estrategias de afrontamiento, ira, culpa.

Delinquency and antisocial behaviour are determined by individual and environmental factors. In recent decades, the number of studies on juvenile delinquency has increased remarkably. Far from considering young offenders as ill, it seems convenient to encourage educational actions aimed at promoting their learning of new skills, capacities, and competences, in order to enhance their social integration starting from what has been called the paradigm of social competence (Garrido, 2005). This option intensifies an individualized intervention, designed based on the learners' potentialities, which have to be strengthened, by compensating risk factors through the opportune activation of protective factors (Costa, Mato, & Morales, 1999).

The analyses carried out, linked to the duality of delinquency and personality, highlight the relationship between both constructs (Sobral, Romero, & Luengo, 1998). From an integrated perspective, those aspects of personality that facilitate or inhibit the person's involvement in antisocial activities are analysed. Thus, for example, high scores in psychoticism, impulsivity, and sensation seeking, among others, have been identified as variables that promote antisocial behaviour (Chico, 1998; Díaz & Báguena, 1989; Lykken, 2000a; Otero-López, Romero & Luengo, 1994), and likewise low susceptibility to punishment (García-Sevilla, 1985), excessive sensitivity to reward (Gomà-i-Freixenet, Grande, Valero & Punti, 2001; Ross, Fabiano & Garrido, 1990; Tremblay, Phil, Vitaro & Dobkin, 1994) and absence of fear (Lykken, 2000a). Other rigorous approaches to the phenomenon of criminal behaviour have attempted to delimit the "sensation seeking" variable, according to which offending behaviour emerges as a response to a constant need for stimulation (Aluja & Torrubia, 1996; Arnett, 1996).

In this sense, everything seems to show that those personality traits that promote uninhibited behaviour, particularly sensation seeking and impulsivity, hinder the rehabilitation process of offenders (Ardil, Forcadell, Miranda, & Pérez, 2006).

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