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Cognitive Thinking Patterns In Psychology

Exam Question on Cognition A-Level

Date: 13/03/2012


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Uploaded by: Megan
Uploaded on: 13/03/2012
Subject: Psychology

Exam Question on Cognition June 20 10 a) Outline one piece of research into criminal thinking patterns? (10 marks) b) To what extent does the cognitive approach provide an explanation of criminal behaviour (15 marks)

a) Criminal thinking patterns have been a topic for many studies in the past. The study by McCoy used a natural experiment, aiming to find out if there was a relationship between criminal thinking styles and illegal behaviour. The independent variables were the gender (male or female) and the type of crime (status, drug, property and violent) and the dependent variable was the Psychological inventory of criminal thinking styles (PICTS) sub scores. The PICTS is an 80-item self report which measures 8 thinking styles thought to be linked to criminal behaviour. 393 undergraduate students completed this questionnaire anonymously, 94% of them were white. The students were offered extra credit to participate in the study. The results showed that both male and female status criminals had the lowest score from the PICTs questionnaire. The violent criminals had high PICT scores as well as the female property criminals. Furthermore, females may have had this high score as they do not generally blame others for their actions (mollification) and therefore they tend to commit crimes like property because it does not involve anyone else to blame. Males, however, tend to be mainly super-optimistic so they overestimate their ability to avoid consequences for their actions. This would explain why there were a higher number of males that were violent compared to females.

b) The cognitive approach generates research on the belief that our mind is like a computer and behaviour is based on internal processes. Cognitive psychologists believe that we can measure what goes on inside by looking at inputs and outputs. This essay will examine the extent to which this approach provides an explanation of criminal behaviour. Cognitive research is generally high in validity, promoting the explanations it gives for criminal behaviour as true. Evidence of this is shown in the study by Chen on moral reasoning which used SMR-SF (Socio-moral Reflection Measure). This measure was used as it had been previously used and tested for good reliability and validity; because they chose to use a trusted measure, it makes the study high in validity and therefore they have measured what they claim to have measured. As their results were valid, the explanation that the cognitive approach has given for criminal behaviour is also valid. However, it could be argued that the SMR-SF is not an accurate measure of moral development because it does not use dilemma-based moral situations and is measured through a scale of agreement. By introducing a scale, it reduces the validity as the participants have limited choices and therefore may have been unable to decide which one to chose and randomly picked one. Due to this, it reduces the validity as you cannot be sure that the participants completed the questionnaire honestly. Overall, the reliability of the SMR-SF outweighs the issue of the scale as participants have not had any issues with it before. Therefore, this shows good evidence that the cognitive approach provides a valid explanation of criminal behaviour. A problem with the cognitive approach is that there are no practical applications for the research and therefore it does not explain criminal behaviour fully enough for us to apply it in real life. There are not clear enough differences in cognitive thinking processes between criminals and non criminals. For example, in Chen's study on morality in criminals and non criminals, they both scored stage 2 on the SMR-SF. There is not a clear enough distinction between the two thinking styles to use this information in a practical way. On the other hand, the research is useful as it supports the cognitive assumption that a person's internal processes can be measured by looking at outputs. For example, in Scott's study it supports the cognitive theory of denial of responsibility - that it is central to many psychological problems that instigate harm to others. By supporting this theory, it supports the importance of denial treatment to addictive behaviour, e.g. drinking problems. Denial is also closely linked with sexual offences. Therefore, this support of the theory can be argued very useful because it backs up current treatments and prompts further research into how denial affects offences such as rape and paedophilia. I believe that this information is vital as it supports current ideas which may develop further, even though it does not provide immediate practical applications Ultimately, I believe that the cognitive approach provides a helpful explanation of criminal behaviour. The research conducted is proven to be high in validity and therefore the claims that are made are strong. However, the research has mainly supported or uncovered links between criminal behaviour and possible explanations, and it has not directly proven a cause effect relationship between these variables. Due to this, I believe that the cognitive approach does not provide a strong enough explanation about criminal behaviour.

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