Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

An Examination of the Adlerian Construct of Social Interest with Criminal Offenders. (Research)

Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

An Examination of the Adlerian Construct of Social Interest with Criminal Offenders. (Research)

Article excerpt

A Bureau of Justice study of offenders released from state prisons in 1983 revealed that 62.5% were rearrested for a serious offense and 41.5% were returned to jail or prison within 3 years of their release (Beck & Shipley, 1989). More recent literature indicates that approximately 30% of offenders violate their parole and are returned to prison within 1 year of release (MacKenzie, 1991; Walters, Revella, & Baltrusaitis, 1990). The rate of recidivism declines markedly over (postrelease) time and is estimated to ultimately be about 50% of prison releases (Schmidt & Witte, 1988).

The high rate of offender recidivism suggests the ongoing value of identifying or developing measures that can improve our ability to predict and positively influence criminal offender outcome. It has been suggested that the ideal selection of potential predictors (explanatory variables) of recidivism should be based on a fully developed theory (Farrington & Tarling, 1985). Examination of the Sulliman Scale of Social Interest (SSSI; Sulliman, 1973) as a predictor of offender outcomes seems compatible with this recommendation in light of Adlerian theory linking social interest and criminality (Adler, 1958).

With the possible exception of Hare's (Hare & Forth, 1985) development of the Psychopathy Checklist, efforts to identify characterological predictors of recidivism have generally not been very successful. However, an empirical investigation by MacKenzie, Shaw, and Souryal (1992) suggested that social interest may be linked to recidivism. MacKenzie and colleagues observed that the Prosocial Living Index (PLI) was inversely related to recidivism. The PLI, which captures some aspects of social interest (e.g., cooperation, responsibility), was developed to quantify the prosocial activities of parolees during community supervision. MacKenzie et al. (1992) observed that the variance in positive social activities was largely accounted for by the variance in intensity of supervision. Therefore, it remains to be seen whether or not orientation to others, as a characterological and behavioral attribute, is significantly related to recidivism.


There has been a recent political and philosophical shift away from an emphasis on the rights and needs of the individual toward more emphasis on social responsibility. This shift focuses on Adlerian theory over other traditional theories of personality that are based upon intrapsychic determinants of behavior. The present study examined the notion of social interest, which is a central concept in Adlerian theory. Specifically, the study investigated the hypothesis that lower social interest is associated with a greater likelihood of unemployment and criminal behavior among parolees.

The construct, Gemeinschaftgefuhl or "social interest," is at the heart of Adlerian psychology and is widely considered the central concept of Adlerian theory (Ansbacher & Ansbacher, 1956). Unfortunately, Adlerian definitions of social interest lack precision (Bickhard & Ford, 1976), and even informed professionals often misunderstand the concept. A review of the concept yields an interesting array of definitions, perhaps accurately reflecting the breadth of the construct as introduced by Adler. In a careful explication of social interest, Bickhard and Ford suggested that the construct be understood as "man-as-socius," interpersonal being with the capacity to identify and empathize with others. Hanna (1996) has reiterated Bickhard and Ford's emphasis on the felt experience of empathy toward others. The experience of identification and empathy enables the individual to cooperate with others and meaningfully contribute to the progression of humankind. From this perspective, the socially interested individual moves from a minus to a plus in the course of answering life's problems in a manner that benefits the individual's community. …

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