Assessing Criminal Thinking: Attitudes and Orientations Influence Behavior

By Holsinger, Alexander M. | Corrections Today, February 1999 | Go to article overview

Assessing Criminal Thinking: Attitudes and Orientations Influence Behavior


Holsinger, Alexander M., Corrections Today


Social science research on attitudes predicting behavior has been progressing rapidly in recent decades. Attitudes and thinking patterns have proved predictive of voting behavior and purchasing behavior, as well as positive and negative social behavior. Specifically, anti-social attitudes have been shown to be highly predictive of criminal and/or antisocial behavior. In their 1994 book, The Psychology of Criminal Conduct, researchers Don Andrews and James Bonta identify thinking patterns, in the form of anti-social attitudes and sentiments, as one of the "big four" in predicting criminal behavior. Thus, when examining what predicts antisocial/criminal behavior, research from the recent past and present consistently shows that thinking is important. An individual who is oriented toward pro-social behavior, and has internalized pro-social definitions of behavior, is much more likely to behave in a pro-social manner. On the other hand, an individual who is oriented toward anti-social behavior (i.e., one who thinks like a criminal) and has internalized anti-social definitions of behavior is much more likely to behave in an anti-social/criminal manner.

Meta-Analysis

Several recent meta-analyses have revealed high correlations between negative attitudes and/or peer associations, and criminal behavior. Andrews and Bonta conducted a meta-analysis in 1994 and found that the highest correlations with risk were displayed through anti-social attitudes and associates when compared to the six major correlates of risk: 1) lower-class origins; 2) personal distress/psychopathology; 3) educational/vocational achievement; 4) parental/family factors; 5) temperament/misconduct and personality; and 6) anti-social attitudes/associates. Similarly, another meta-analysis, conducted by David J. Simourd in 1993, found even stronger correlations for antisocial attitudes and associates when compared to lower-class origins; personal distress/psychopathology; family structure/parent problems; minor personality variables; quality of parental relationship; personal educational/vocational achievement; and temperament/misconduct/self-control. Paul Gendreau, Tracy Little and Claire Goggin found similar results in 1996 when examining anti-social attitudes as a factor by itself, isolating the effects independently of anti-social associates.

The importance of attitudes when predicting anti-social behaviors remains the same when comparing male and female offenders. When the factors correlated with risk (and subsequently recidivism) are disaggregated between males and females, the individual correlations differ slightly, but the ordering of importance remains the same. In other words, when predicting risk, and subsequently criminal behavior, anti-social attitudes are highly predictive, thereby revealing a dynamic risk factor that can be targeted through effective correctional intervention.

Risk/Needs Assessments

Some of the most valid risk/needs assessments for offenders are those that incorporate dynamic risk factors through the measurement of criminogenic needs. In addition, the strength of the anti-social attitude factor that was identified in the aforementioned meta-analyses is extended by research that has shown predictive validity when anti-social attitudes and orientations are measured by a dynamic risk/needs assessment.

When Simourd and researcher Wagdy Loza assessed anti-social attitudes using standardized and objective risk/needs assessment instruments, consistent positive correlations were displayed between these attitudes and criminal behavior. In addition, anti-social attitudes have been positively (and linearly) associated with the severity of the offense as well. Thus, the stronger the presence of anti-social attitudes, the more severe the offending may be. Anti-social attitudes are highly correlated with other anti-social behaviors as well, such as taking drugs. Finally, Ian W. Shields and Georga C. …

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