An Experimental Analysis of Differential Perception Patterns Among Offenders and Non-Offenders

Volkan Topalli, Georgia State University

Although a variety of sociologically oriented theories in criminology (General Strain, Anomie, Social Disorganization, etc.) predict criminality as the result of one's reaction to social and physical environmental forces there is very little research that explores the individual level psychological processes underpinning these reactions. we conducted a laboratory quasi-experiment comparing active (uncaught) violent street offenders, demographic controls (who hail from the same neighborhoods as offenders but don't commit violent crimes), and college students, on a social perception task using Point light Display (PLD) video technology. PLDs depict brief interactions between two actors under degraded optical conditions. Subjects? Perceptions of the PLDs provided qualitative and quantitative data indicating significant differential perception patterns among the three experimental groups, supporting the notion that congruent cognitive processes underline the impact of larger sociological forces on criminal behavior. Results are discussed using Ecological Psychology theory as a conceptual bridge betwen larger macro-theories and the individual level criminal behaviors they purport to explain.

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Updated 05/20/2006