Re-offending - a Function of Cognitive Inflexibility?

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


Offenders who continue to offend, even after treatment programs, might continue their behaviours because they find the shift from antisocial to prosocial rules particularly difficult. The ability to shift a mental rule set in general depends on one’s cognitive flexibility. The current study hypothesised that cognitive flexibility might influence an offender's propensity to violate social rules and re-offend. Offenders who show less cognitive flexibility were hypothesised to show a higher propensity for rule violation (consistent with greater difficulties shifting to prosocial rules) than their more cognitively flexible peers. The study compared scores on the Wisconsin Card Sorting Test (WCST) that measures cognitive inflexibility with scores on the Level of Service Inventory Revised (LSI-R) that measures propensity for rule violation (and re-offending). Behavioural measures of re-offending (Number of Convictions and Misconducts) were also compared to scores on WCST. Affective state as measured by the Depression Anxiety and Stress Scale – Short Version (DASS-21) and problematic alcohol use as measured by the Michigan Alcohol Screening Test (MAST) was taken into account for its effects on response to the WCST, and hopelessness as measured by the Beck Hopelessness Scale (BHS) was considered as an alternative specific responsivity factor affecting offender treatment programs outcomes. One hundred and fifty three adult male inmates from 4 NSW correctional centres participated in the study. As hypothesised, cognitive inflexibility was moderately correlated with, and predicted both Number of Misconducts and scores on LSI-R but not Number of Convictions. Interestingly, hopelessness emerged as another significant predictor of Number of Misconducts and propensity for rule violation. Structural equation modelling showed that the hypothesised model was the best and appropriate fit for the data in the study, however, only 7% of the variance in re-offending was explained by cognitive inflexibility, which doubled when hopelessness was considered as well. Cognitive inflexibility appears to have some influence on reoffending but the effect is not large. Nonetheless, there are some clinical implications for approaches taken to offender treatment programs for high risk offenders and recommendations for enhancing treatment programs are
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Charles Sturt University
  • Thomson, Donald, Principal Supervisor
  • Kiernan, Michael, Principal Supervisor
Award date10 Aug 2012
Place of PublicationAustralia
Publication statusPublished - 2012


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