Ioannou, Maria and Canter, David V. (2008) Criminals’ emotional experience during offence commission. In: British Psychological Society Annual Conference, 2-4 April 2008, Dublin, Ireland. (Unpublished)

The emotions that are experienced by a criminal whilst committing a specific crime were investigated. It was hypothesised that: (a) the emotional experience of crime will reflect a circumplex for emotions for normal population; and (b) the emotional experience of crime (positive or negative) will be related to particular types of offences committed. One-hundred-and-twenty incarcerated offenders, convicted for a variety of crimes, indicated, on a forced choice questionnaire, the emotions they had experienced whilst committing a specific crime they remembered well. The results were subjected to Smallest Space Analysis (SSA), a non-metric multidimensional scaling procedure based upon the assumption that the underlying structure, or system of behaviour, will most readily be appreciated if the relationship between every variable and every other variable is examined. Results showed that the emotions reflected the circumplex structure of emotions postulated by Russell (1997) for non-criminal experiences. Thus, it was possible to identify four themes in relation to emotions: Elation, Calm, Distress, and Depression. However, they showed a stronger distinction between pleasure and displeasure than for the normal range of non-criminal experiences. In addition, criminals’ emotions were found to be more intense than these of a ‘normal’ population. Further analysis showed that different subsets of crimes were more like to be associated with different emotions, positive or negative. Elation and Calm were found to be associated with theft, burglary and robbery and Depression and Distress with sex offences, violence and murder. In broad terms, property crimes were found to be more pleasurable than crimes against the person. The results are taken as support for Katz’s (1988) proposal that the emotional significance of crimes needs to be considered more fully in order to understand the psychological processes that sustain and encourage crimes. The utility of Russell’s model indicates that the emotions experienced by criminals whilst committing crimes can be conceptualised in ways similar to other emotional experiences. Theoretical implications for understanding crime on the basis of the Emotional Experience, methodological implications for the use of MDS techniques in the study of crime and practical implications for the clinical treatment of offenders and police investigations are discussed.

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