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Title: Differences in executive functioning between violent and non-violent offenders
Author(s): J. Meijers, J.M. Harte, G. Meynen and P. Cuijpers
Journal: Psychological Medicine
Year: 2017
Volume: 47
Pages: 1784-1793
DOI: 10.1017/S0033291717000241
File URL: /vuams-pubs/differences_executive_functioning_offenders_Meijers et al.2017.pdf
Keywords: CANTAB, executive function, inhibition, neuropsychology, offenders, prison
Abstract: Background. A growing body of neuropsychological and neurobiological research shows a relationship between functioning of the prefrontal cortex and criminal and violent behaviour. The prefrontal cortex is crucial for executive functions such as inhibition, attention, working memory, set-shifting and planning. A deficit in these functions – a prefrontal deficit – may result in antisocial, impulsive or even aggressive behaviour. While several meta-analyses show large effect sizes for the relationship between a prefrontal deficit, executive dysfunction and criminality, there are few studies investigating differences in executive functions between violent and non-violent offenders. Considering the relevance of identifying risk factors for violent offending, the current study explores whether a distinction between violent and non-violent offenders can be made using an extensive neuropsychological test battery. Method. Male remand prisoners (N = 130) in Penitentiary Institution Amsterdam Over-Amstel were administered an extensive neuropsychological test battery (Cambridge Automated Neuropsychological Test Battery; CANTAB) measuring response inhibition, planning, attention, set-shifting, working memory and impulsivity/reward sensitivity. Results. Violent offenders performed significantly worse on the stop-signal task (partial correlation r = 0.205, p = 0.024), a task measuring response inhibition. No further differences were found between violent and non-violent offenders. Explorative analyses revealed a significant relationship between recidivism and planning (partial correlation r =?0.209, p = 0.016). Conclusion. Violent offenders show worse response inhibition compared to non-violent offenders, suggesting a more pronounced prefrontal deficit in violent offenders than in non-violent offenders.

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