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Title: Exploring the impact of neurocriminological ideas on public sentencing preferences and moral behaviour
Author: Blakey, Robert
ISNI:       0000 0004 7966 1302
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2018
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While the focus of criminology has traditionally been the sociological correlates of criminal behaviour, there is growing interest in the neurobiological correlates of offending. Theorists predict that this emerging area of research, known as neurocriminology, will change how people view crime, punishment and their own behaviour. The veracity of this prediction will rest on the question of whether neurocriminology can challenge the belief that offenders make a morally relevant choice to offend (or not). By suggesting that offenders are less able to make such choices, neurocriminology could lead offenders to appear more dangerous yet less blameworthy. Indeed, learning about neurocriminology may actually promote deviant behaviour, if people internalise the idea that they are not really responsible for their actions, because their brain 'made them do it'. This thesis tested such hypotheses through two online survey experiments and three field experiments, with a total of 8153 participants. In every study, participants learned about some neurocriminological idea that could explain why a person, without any mental disorder, committed an impulsive offence - a common combination of factors in many individual acts of crime. The communication of neurocriminology significantly reduced attributions of blame, albeit to a small extent, and had no (or even an ameliorating) effect on perceived dangerousness. In the largest study, after exposure to neurocriminology, participants punished the offender significantly less, a response to ascribing him a significantly more moral character and significantly less self-control; though these effects remained small. Neurocriminological evidence also led participants to recall significantly more acts of prior deviance, but not to act less morally in the study. The fear that neurocriminology could promote deviance might explain the final finding: participants in the richest and poorest boroughs of London - but not those in between - were significantly more inclined to disrupt a scientific campaign aimed at communicating neurocriminology to offenders (rather than non-offenders). In sum, the implications of communicating neurocriminology were in the direction of promoting lenience for offenders, yet the effects were small. Hence this thesis concludes that lay people will not relinquish the notion that offenders deserve to be punished in the face of neurocriminology. Given its function in communicating censure, the human tendency to attribute blame may be too ingrained to be overthrown by science, at least at the present point in time.
Supervisor: Bradford, Ben ; Condry, Rachel Sponsor: Economic and Social Research Council
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Psychology ; Public Opinion ; Neuroscience ; Sentencing ; Social psychology ; Criminology