Cognitive processing in convicted sexual offenders and non-offender controls
Current cognitive-behavioural sexual offender treatment programmes request that offenders recall detailed information regarding cognitions, emotions and behaviour in relation to their offending as a means of addressing issues such as claiming responsibility for the offence, social skills training and relapse prevention. However, it was hypothesised that should this offender group demonstrate overgeneralised autobiographical memory recall the efficacy of these fundamental treatment components would be restricted. Therefore, convicted male sexual offenders against children were recruited in order to investigate autobiographical memory recall, and its association with attributional style and social problem-solving. Twelve offender participants completed the Autobiographical Memory Test (AMT; Williams & Broadbent, 1986), Internal, Personal, and Situational Attributions Questionnaire (IPSAQ; Kinderman & Bentall, 1996a) and the Social Problem-Solving Inventory - Revised (SPSI-R; D'Zurilla, Nezu & Maydeu-Olivares, 1997). Demographic data were collected using a general information questionnaire devised by the researcher and the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI; Beck, Rush, Shaw & Emery, 1979) and the Symptom Checklist - 90 -R (SCL-90-R; Derogatis, 1994) were implemented in order to screen for depression and general psychopathology. Twelve male non-offender control participants were also recruited who matched the offender participants on age and level of intellectual ability based on the Raven's Standard Progressive Matrices (SPM; Raven, 1976). The results indicated that the offender group recalled significantly more overgeneral event memories than the control sample, and that this difference prevailed when depressed mood was controlled for. The offender group was also found to endorse 4 negative problem orientation (NPO) and avoidance style (AS) problem-solving strategies significantly more than the control group, and scored significantly poorer on overall social problem-solving (SPS) ability on the SPSI-R. However, when depressed mood was controlled for only a non-significant trend remained suggesting that the offender group implemented avoidance strategies more than the controls. Although, no significant group differences were found for attributional style, the data did highlight greater external attribution for positive than negative events suggestive of a selfblaming cognitive bias in the offender group, which is not consistent with the sexual offence literature. It is postulated that overgeneralised autobiographical memory recall in the offender group is associated with the use of a cognitive style implemented during development in order to defend against negative affect as a result of deviant sexual interests and in some instances a history of childhood sexual abuse (CSA). It is also proposed that a tendency towards avoidance is associated with and exacerbates overgeneral memory recall.