Moral Emotions and Moral Reasoning in an Inmate Population: Preliminary Results from the GMU Recidivism Study

June Price Tangney, George Mason University
Mark Hastings, George Mason University
Patrick Meyer, George Mason University
Emi Furukawa, George Mason University

Initial results will be presented from a prospective study designed to evaluate the impact of moral emotions (i.e., feelings of shame, guilt and empathy) on criminal recidivism, and to assess whether existing services and interventions are effective in modifying the moral affective capacity of offenders, thereby reducing rates of re-offense. To what degree do feelings of shame, guilt and empathy foster reparative behavior and reform? And how can prison programs promote the development of adaptive moral emotions? In Phase1of the project, recently incarcerated offenders complete baseline measures of moral emotional style (proneness to shame, guilt, and empathy), moral reasoning, criminogenic beliefs, psychological adjustment and psychopathy. In addition, inmates' behavioral adjustment and use of offender services are tracked. Initial analyses will focus on the following questions: (1) Do inmates scoring high on the Hare Psychopathy Checklist actually show an impaired capacity for moral emotions and moral reasoning? (2) Do moral emotions and moral reasoning predict jail adjustment and behavior, above and beyond level of psychopathy? (3) Regarding use of offender services (e.g., substance abuse treatment, GED, Chaplain), what kinds of offenders, from what kinds of backgrounds, with what profile of moral affective characteristics, opt for certain services as opposed to others?

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Updated 05/20/2006