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Differences in executive functioning between violent and non-violent offenders

  • J. Meijers (a1), J. M. Harte (a2), G. Meynen (a3) (a4) and P. Cuijpers (a1) (a5)
Abstract
Background

A growing body of neuropsychological and neurobiological research shows a relationship between functioning of the prefrontal cortex and criminal and violent behaviour. The prefrontal cortex is crucial for executive functions such as inhibition, attention, working memory, set-shifting and planning. A deficit in these functions – a prefrontal deficit – may result in antisocial, impulsive or even aggressive behaviour. While several meta-analyses show large effect sizes for the relationship between a prefrontal deficit, executive dysfunction and criminality, there are few studies investigating differences in executive functions between violent and non-violent offenders. Considering the relevance of identifying risk factors for violent offending, the current study explores whether a distinction between violent and non-violent offenders can be made using an extensive neuropsychological test battery.

Method

Male remand prisoners (N = 130) in Penitentiary Institution Amsterdam Over-Amstel were administered an extensive neuropsychological test battery (Cambridge Automated Neuropsychological Test Battery; CANTAB) measuring response inhibition, planning, attention, set-shifting, working memory and impulsivity/reward sensitivity.

Results

Violent offenders performed significantly worse on the stop-signal task (partial correlation r = 0.205, p = 0.024), a task measuring response inhibition. No further differences were found between violent and non-violent offenders. Explorative analyses revealed a significant relationship between recidivism and planning (partial correlation r = −0.209, p = 0.016).

Conclusion

Violent offenders show worse response inhibition compared to non-violent offenders, suggesting a more pronounced prefrontal deficit in violent offenders than in non-violent offenders.

Copyright
Corresponding author
*Address for correspondence: J. Meijers, MSc, Department Clinical, Neuro- and Developmental Psychology, Faculty of Behavioural and Movement Sciences, Section Clinical Neuropsychology, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Room 1F-66, Van der Boechorststraat 1, 1081 BT Amsterdam, The Netherlands. (Email: j.meijers@vu.nl)
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Psychological Medicine
  • ISSN: 0033-2917
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Appendices A and B

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