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Crime and Time: How short-term mindsets encourage crime and how the future self can prevent it

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - CRIMETIME (Crime and Time: How short-term mindsets encourage crime and how the future self can prevent it)

Reporting period: 2020-01-01 to 2021-06-30

Why are some people more likely to commit crime than others? Answers to this question, which is at the heart of criminology, can be grouped into two broad views. On the one hand, dispositional perspectives argue that stable factors within the individual, such as low self-control or a lack of integrity, lie at the roots of criminal conduct. Sociogenic perspectives, on the other hand, put the locus of study outside the individual and point towards factors such as rough neighborhoods, parental unemployment, and deviant peers, as the main causes of crime. In spite of ample empirical support for both views, there has been relatively little constructive engagement with each other.
Criminological theorizing is showing a trend towards more integrative approaches. Life-course perspectives in particular have been critical in this respect by demonstrating complementarity between sociogenic and dispositional approaches. This project takes the next step and aims to show that dispositional and sociogenic perspectives are not just compatible but in fact symbiotic: they have a common point of convergence and each offers something the other needs. Dispositional perspectives have demonstrated the importance of shortsightedness in the explanation of crime but have not fully incorporated the extent to which it is also influenced by social environments, events, and specific experiences. Sociogenic views, in contrast, have not entertained the possibility that such factors may influence crime precisely because they encourage short-term mindsets. This project develops a new perspective on criminal behavior –Time Frame Theory (TFT)– that integrates both views. TFT is premised on the idea that short-term mindsets encourage crime and specifies how both individual dispositions and sociogenic variables can encourage such mindsets. This theory is tested using a combination of longitudinal research and behavioral field experiments.
Besides aiming connect the dispositional and the sociogenic perspective and providing the foundation for a common paradigm, the research project goes a step further by using TFT as the basis for a behavioral intervention to reduce crime. We use virtual reality technology in combination with a smartphone application to instill a future-oriented mindset in offenders. Using these technologies we create avatars, i.e. digital age-progressed representations of research participants, and let them interact with this future self. This combination of novel theory and innovative methodology may lead not only to a breakthrough in our understanding of delinquency but can also provide a blueprint for a scalable and evidence-based intervention to reduce it.
The main results obtained in Work Packages 1 and 2 which regard testing TFT, provide support the theory. In a first paper, lead authored by the PI (Van Gelder, Averdijk, Ribeaud & Eisner, 2019, Legal and Criminological Psychology, we question the commonly assumed view of a xed causal ordering between self-control (i.e. short-term mindsets), delinquency, and sanctions, and test and find support for the hypothesis that experiencing sanctions may reduce self-control, thereby increasing the risk of future delinquent behavior. In another paper (revise and resubmit at Journal of Youth and Adolescence) lead-authored by (former) postdoc Defoe, we provide evidence of the fluctuating nature of short-term mindsets during adolescence. Using longitudinal data from the Zurich Project on the Social Development of Children and Youths (z-proso), we show that short-term mindsets and delinquency ‘travel together’ in the sense that increases in short-term mindsets predict higher levels of delinquency and, vice versa, that reductions in short-term mindsets predict reduced delinquency. In a second paper using the same dataset (submitted at Journal of Youth and Adolescence), we investigated the co-development of friend delinquency and adolescent delinquency, as well as the co-development of friend delinquency and short-term mindsets (impulsivity and lack of academic future orientation). This study finds that higher initial levels of friend delinquency are associated with higher initial levels of indicators of short-term mindsets, but does not demonstrate co-development between delinquency of peers and short-term mindsets. A third paper by (current) postdoc Deitzer, we employ longitudinal data collected both from z-proso and the PROSPER Peers dataset to investigate the relation between harsh and unpredictable environments and short-term mindsets and crime. We predict that harsh and unpredictable environments lead to unpredictability schemas resulting in short-term mindsets, which lead to crime. In a fourth paper, first authored by PhD-student Kübel, the well-established victim-offender overlap is explained through short-term mindsets.
Work Packages 3 and 4 involve the use of virtual reality (VR) and smartphone technology. Two articles on the use of VR in criminal justice and crime research have been published, both lead-authored by postdoc Cornet (Cornet & Van Gelder, 2020a, Psychology, Crime & Law; Cornet & Van Gelder, 2020b, Sancties). An article lead-authored by PhD-student Ganschow is currently under review at Self & Identity (Ganschow, Van Gelder, Cornet & Zebel) and a second article by the same authors will be submitted this month (November). Importantly, the first results article showing a decrease in offending in a sample of convicted offenders after our VR simulation is currently under review at Nature – Scientific Reports (Cornet, Van Gelder & Van der Schalk).
Our team is busy with developing and testing additional theoretical questions related to TFT and addressing the objectives defined in the proposal. We anticipate to advance the state of the art in multiple ways, especially in terms of further addressing the development of short-term mindsets and how it relates to (the development of) other correlates of crime groups. On the VR and smartphone we are setting a new standard in criminological research.
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