A new study, published in Journal of Experimental Criminologyexamined the development of offense-related skills in a sample of convicted burglars, depending on their age.
The results revealed significant differences between young (under 21) and older thieves (over 21) in their virtual theft performances. Older thieves show more developed skills in terms of the items stolen and the efficiency of their search compared to their younger counterparts. These findings suggest that expertise plays an important role in offending-related decision-making throughout the criminal career.
Researchers from the University of Portsmouth compared indicators of skill between two groups as they completed a simulated “virtual burglary.” The findings shed new light on the role of expertise in criminal decision-making and have implications for future crime prevention strategies and targeted interventions.
A total of 68 convicted burglars participated in the research, with 36 young burglars and 32 older burglars taking part in a virtual burglary simulation. All participants were serving sentences in adult prisons or Young Offender Institutions in the UK.
Each offender was given the same virtual environment of a street with five terraced houses. The participants must first choose which property the thief is and whether it is accessible through the front door or through an alley from the back. They had to work their way into the house which included a ground floor consisting of a hallway, kitchen, living room, and dining room. A master bedroom, nursery, study, and bathroom are located on the first floor, and the attic floor contains a playroom and a third (teen) bedroom.
Valuables are distributed along with other items (food, books) in locations consistent with a typical home. Some items are placed in plain sight, while others are hidden (for example, a tablet in a rucksack). Participants were able to “steal” anything they wanted and doors, cupboards and drawers could be opened. All of the participant’s movements and interactions (ie, distance traveled, time spent in different areas, items stolen) were recorded in a computer simulation and then analyzed by the researchers.
The research is based on the concept of “expert” which refers to the characteristics, skills and knowledge that distinguish experts from novices. Skill is developed through repeated practice and learning from that experience. For offenders, the skill has been shown to influence different stages of decision-making, from identifying relevant information to guiding actions based on past events and experiences.
Dr. Amy Meenaghan, School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of Portsmouth says, “One of the major implications of this research is its potential to inform crime prevention strategies and offender rehabilitation initiatives. By understanding in the cognitive processes related to the skill of offending behavior, experts can design crime prevention strategies that interrupt the decision chain of offending and thus prevent further criminal activity.”
“This is an important step forward in applying cognitive psychology concepts to understand criminal behavior. By using virtual reality as a safe and effective proxy for real-life behavior, we get unique insights into the decision-making process of thieves.”
The researchers hope that this study will encourage further exploration of the impact of skills on offending behavior and contribute to evidence-based approaches to reducing criminal activity and promoting social safety.
Amy Meenaghan et al, A comparison of young and old thieves who commit virtual thefts: the development of skill and automaticity, Journal of Experimental Criminology (2023). DOI: 10.1007/s11292-023-09573-x
Provided by the University of Portsmouth
Citation: Study reveals older thieves than younger counterparts in virtual burglaries (2023, July 17) retrieved July 17, 2023 from https://phys.org/news/2023 -07-reveals-older-burglars-outperform-younger.html
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