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Moral judgement, cognitive distortions and empathy in incarcerated delinquent and community control adolescents

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Immature moral judgements, cognitive distortions and low empathy could contribute to criminal offending and are often targeted in interventions aimed at reducing risk of recidivism. We compared 58 delinquent 13–18-year-olds, incarcerated in youth homes in Sweden (29 males, 29 females) with 58 (29 males, 29 females) community control adolescents individually matched on age, gender, ethnicity and socio-economic position. Self-report questionnaires examined moral judgement, cognitive distortions, and empathy. Delinquent adolescents exhibited less mature moral judgements and more cognitive distortions than control adolescents. However, no association between delinquency status and self-reported empathy was found. In addition, girls reported more mature moral judgements, less cognitive distortions and more empathy than boys did. Moral judgement and empathy were positively correlated and both measures were negatively correlated with cognitive distortions. Our data support the idea that moral judgement and cognitive distortions are important treatment targets for juvenile delinquents, whereas empathy may be less meaningful to address directly.

Keywords: Juvenile delinquency; cognitive distortion; empathy; moral development; social cognition; treatment

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Centre for Violence Prevention, Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, Sweden 2: Department of Psychology, Uppsala University, Sweden 3: The Oasis Home for Children, Aneby, Sweden

Publication date: October 1, 2006


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