Crime and CriminalBehavior are not simple phenomenon to understand and deal with.
In legal terms, crime can be defined as anintentional act which violates law of a particular society. According to Tappan(1947), crime can be understood “as an intentional act in violation of thecriminal law committed without defence or excuse and penalized by the state asa felony or misdemeanour”.Jerome (1947) has defined crime as”legally forbidden and intentional action, which has a harmful impact on socialinterest, which has a criminal intent and which has legally prescribedpunishment for it”.
Fivecharacteristics of this definition are as follows: 1) Theact is legally forbidden. 2) Theact must be intentional.3) Theact should be harmful to society. 4) There should be a criminal intent. 5) Somepenalties are prescribed for that particular act. Crime can also be defined in social ornon-legal terms.
It is ananti-social act or behavior which refers to the more serious habitual actionsthat violates personal rights, laws or widely held social norms (Bartol andBartol, 2008). According to Alloy et al. (1999), antisocial behavior involvesbehavior which violates rights of others and often involves criminal behavior.
Caldwell (1956) has explained it as “those acts or failures to act that areconsidered to be so detrimental to the well-being of a society, as judgmentalby its prevailing standards, that action regarding them cannot be interested toprivate initiative or haphazard methods but must be taken by an organizedsociety in accordance with test procedures”. Thereis an increase in crime rate and prison population in India. The Indian PenalCode crime rate has increased by 41.7% during the decade 2005-2015 from 165.3in the year 2005 to 234.2 in the year 2015. It has increased by 14.
7% duringthe year 2015 as compared to average (during 2010-2014). India’s total prisonpopulation has continued to grow since the year 2000 and by 2015 it was 420,000making India as fifth largest prison population in the world (Jacobson et al.,2017). Across much of the world, recent decadeshave seen rapid and unrelenting growth in the use of imprisonment as a responseto crime and social disorder. It has been suggested that over 10 million peopleare imprisoned worldwide. This number includes both those who have beensentenced to imprisonment following conviction of a crime and those who arebeing held in custody prior to trial or sentencing (Coyle et al., 2016).
Increasingcrime rate and prison population has sought the attention of the professionalsto understand, explain and manage the phenomenon in the best way. Theprofessionals who deal with such phenomenon are from different disciplines suchas Biology, Sociology, Psychology and more specifically Criminology. Theincrease in offenders makes us question that where is the individual lacking.Is it the environmental factors that have led him to such a level or is it theinborn traits of aggression that drives him to this level of criminality. Thereare many theoretical perspectives that explain the phenomena of criminality. Criminal behavior can be said to be theresult of biological defects in the person, like defects at genetic,chromosomal, neuro-chemical or at brain level.
Professionals from Sociologyprovide their greater insight to the world of criminology and criminal justicein understanding criminal behavior. According to them, criminal behaviorresults from faulty social system, social organization and structure. Thediscipline of Psychology contributes to the world of criminology by puttingtheir emphasis on psychological phenomenon which is mainly the cause for crimeand criminal behavior including faulty learning and understanding of the world.Several theories are the basis of socio-cognitive approach to criminalbehavior. This approach to criminal behavior holds that criminality is learntat a cognitive level through association and observing the behavior of others.Once the behavior is learnt, it may be reinforced and/or punished by itsconsequences.DifferentialAssociation Theory (Sutherland, 1939) isof the view that criminal behavioris learnt. Individuals learn criminal behavior by taking part in close groupsof which criminality has become a norm.
It has been stated that criminal skillsare acquired along with the attitudes and beliefs which are responsible forcriminal behavior. The feeling of group identities and belongingness are alsoacquired. Learning of criminal behavior occurs within primary groups which arefamily, friends, peers, etc.
Criminal behavior involves learning the techniquesof offending as well as the motives, drives, beliefs, attitude andrationalizations. Bandura’s(1973b) concepts of observational learning or modelling in the social learningprocesses are an important phenomenon which suggests that individual mayacquire ways of doing something simply by watching others. Individual do notsimply copy the exact behavior of models but they construct their perceptionsof reality in a selective and unique way.
Tayloret al. (2006) defined social-cognitionas the study of how people form inferences from the social information in theenvironment. According to Higgins (2000), social-cognition is the study of how people make sense of other peopleand themselves, that is, learning about what matters in the social world.Social-cognition can be defined as aprocess by which we interpret, analyze, remember and use information about thesocial world (Baron et al.
, 2008). In this study, two aspects of socialcognition are studied: Empathy andSociomoral Reasoning. These two aspects are crucial in our study as theyare concerned with moral development and prosocial behavior in an individual.Empathyis another important socio-cognitivevariable which plays a vital role in understanding and prediction of humanbehavior.
Dictionary, defines empathy as “the capacity of understanding, beingaware of, being sensitive to and vicariously experiencing the feelings,thoughts and experience of another of either the past or present without havingthe feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectivelyexplicit manner”. Eisenberg and Strayer (1987) defined empathy as sharinganother’s emotional state or context. Empathic reactions require aninterpretation of the emotions appropriately in others.Moral reasoningcan be defined as a competence of moral judgment and it is a process of judgingwhich action is morally right or wrong (Rest et al., 2000).
According to Leman(2001), moral reasoning can be understood as one’s ability to make ethicalchoices when a moral dilemma is encountered and it is the ability to articulatereasons for choices that are made. Moral judgment involves moral beliefs andagreements in making concrete moral decisions. Moral reasoning primarilyregards the structure underlying these arguments or the pattern along whichconcrete arguments are produced (Leman, 2001). Sociomoral reasoning can beunderstood as the process through which an individual determines right fromwrong.OBJECTIVE:Need of the current work is to find out how these socio-cognitive variables differ in offenders as well as non-offenders.It is important to understand whether the processing of cognitions is differentin offenders or is it the same for both the groups.
HYPOTHESES1) Offenderswill have lower levels of empathy as compared to non-offenders. 2) Offenderswill have low sociomoral reasoning as compared to non-offenders.METHODOLOGYSAMPLEThepresent study is carried out on the sample of offenders and non-offenders. Thesample of 60 under-trial offendersis taken from District Court, Amritsar who were being tried on a range ofoffences such as theft, fraud, snatching and drug related criminal activities.
The age range of offenders is from 18to 50 years, minimum education of 5th grade. The sample of 60 non-offenders included graduateand post graduate students. It also included working population like gardeners, sweepers and ground men.They were having similar educational qualification and were matched on socioeconomic statuses. In this study only the males were utilized because femalesample was not cooperative and was unavailable.PSYCHOLOGICAL MEASURES1) SociomoralReflection Measure – Short Form (SRM-SF)- Gibbs, Basinger and Fuller, (1992)2) InterpersonalReactivity Index (IRI)- Mark Davis (1980)ANALYSISt-ratiosis used in this study to find differences in both the groups of offenders andnon offenders.
The variables of Empathy haveinsignificant differences between offenders and non-offenders.Perspective Taking and Fantasy are cognitiveaspects while Empathic Concern and Emotional Distress are the emotional aspects of empathy. However,all the four dimensions are insignificant. As the hypothesis was made that offenderswill have lower score on each of the variables of empathy as compared to non- offenders but the findings revealed thatthere are insignificant group differences on the dimensions of empathy.
Offenders’mean scores is bit higher on perspective taking and personal distress of theempathy subscales where as non- offendersscored higher on fantasy and empathic concern subscale of this particularempathy scale. This results shows that offenders are good in taking and consideringthe perspective of others during exchanging and sharing their point of view ascompared to non- offenders.Offendershave also been shown to feel distress while seeing or observing the pain inothers. Non-offendershave been shown to be good in fantasy means perceiving and imagining thecharacter and situation well depicted in story, book, movies etc.
, as comparedto offenders.While taking the point of empathic concern, non- offendersare shown to have the warmth, support and kindness toward the person who is inthe pain or trouble as compared to offenders. These differences are howeverinsignificant. Itcan be commented here that the sample that we have taken is of offenderswho are not involving in heinous crimes but are engaged in thefts and robbery,etc. These people may have some level of empathy in them but are living in suchdire circumstances that they get involved in criminal activities. Theenvironment they belong to, their role models, their thinking patterns andtheir moral development are perhaps from the many factors that have driven themto these criminal activities. They do feel distressed when they see themselvesor others in pain and probably in order to overcome these feelings of distress,they involve themselves in offending behaviors.
Significant groupdifferences are observed between offenders and non-offenders on sociomoral reasoning ( t (58) = 6.86p<0.01) . The results indicate that mean score is higher for non-offenders =298.53) as compared tooffenders (=255.
88). Therefore, itclearly reflects that non-offenders possess more mature sociomoral reasoningthan offenders. This result is in line with the hypothesis framed Moral developmental theory viewedsociomoral reasoning as an aspect of social-cognition that is linked todelinquent behavior, with delinquents showing lower levels of reasoning thantheir non-delinquent peers (Blasi, 1980; Nelson et al., 1990).
Cognitive developmental theory suggests that mature-level sociomoralreasoning can provide a protective factor, or buffer against antisocial andviolent criminal behavior. The converse of the delay hypothesisis that mature-level reasoning could act as a buffer against antisocialinfluences. The buffer represented the characteristics of mature-levelreasoning, empathic concern for others and the ability to understand theimplications of one’s actions for others (Jennings et al., 1983). Moralreasoning refers to the cognitive and emotional processes occurring within aperson when they are attempting to determine whether or not an event is morally’right or wrong’. Moralreasoning refers to how individuals reason and justify their behavior withrespect to moral issues.
It involves making judgments in situations of moralconflict.Within the moralreasoning theory framework, offending behavior is seen as a result ofsociomoral development delay beyond childhood, accompanied by an egocentricbias. The secondary cognitive distortions then allow individuals to disengagefrom taking responsibility for their behavior on a moral level. Aggression and a lack of empathy maybecome associated with deficiencies in moral reasoning later in life. Moralreasoning is heavily dependent on concern for the distress of others and onrole-taking skills (Kohlberg and Diessner, 1991).Poormoral reasoning may influence social information processing through cognitivedistortions such as non-veridical attitudes about goals, motivations andbehavior (Gibbs, 1993). Individuals with poor moral reasoning are not able tounderstand moral issues and are not able to understand the perspective ofothers.
In conclusion,it can be suggested that the moral values and ethics are so depleted in oursociety that it brings forth criminal behavior. Individuals may be educated butstill resort to criminal activities of theft or robbery because the moralvalues are no longer strong enough inside them. Therefore, moral development inchildren is very important. Our upbringing has to be of such a level that morallessons are inculcated in children right from the start. These lessons shouldeven become part of the curriculum.
School environment should ensure thatmorality is discussed and workshops are conducted to explain to children thedifferences between right and wrong. This research adds to our knowledge byshowing that immature moral reasoning is one reason for offenders to indulge inoffending behavior. Empathy is another sociocognitive variable which canenhance a sound development in individuals. However, insignificant differencesalso suggest that even normal population is not that empathic.
The trend todaythat exists shows that individuals in general lack empathy. They don’t want toinvolve themselves in the situations or problems of others. They want to stayaloof and disinterested in the lives of others. That is why we have a societywhere personal harm has become common and prosocial and empathic behavior hasrisen.
A change is required at the grassroot level. Parenting has to be mademore effective and the role of school to enhance empathy and moral reasoninghas to be highlighted. Peer interactions can also be made more positive andvalue creating.