The Role of Arrest Risk Perception Formation in the Association Between Psychopathy and Aggressive Offending

Published date01 October 2021
Date01 October 2021
Subject MatterArticles
The Role of Arrest Risk
Perception Formation in the
Association Between
Psychopathy and
Aggressive Offending
Sultan Altikriti
, Joseph L. Nedelec
, and Ian Silver
Research on the role of risk perception as a mechanism linking personality traits and behavioral
outcomes is limited. The current study assessed a developmental model of the influence of psy-
chopathic traits (PPTs) on the between- and within-individual variation in perceptions of risk and
aggressive offending. Multivariate latent growth curve models were used to estimate the role of
risk perceptions in the association between PPTs and aggressive offending in a sample of 1,354
adjudicated youths. The results indicated that PPTs influenced between-individual differences in
perceptions of risk (b¼.312) and aggressive offending (b¼.256), although the effects on within-
individual differences suggested some attenuation over time. Additionally, higher PPT scores
exhibited an indirect influence on increased aggressive offending through reduced perceptions of
risk (b¼.049). Implications from this line of research support calls for a developmentally informed
juvenile justice system that considers latent personality traits and their long-term effects. Broader
implications support individualized rehabilitative programming and tailored responses to offending
over the blanket deterrence approach that dominates the current landscape of the American
criminal justice system.
developmental criminology, risk, individual differences, psychopathy, deterrence
Deterrence theory has been instrumental in guiding policy decisions since the early development of
the American criminal justice system (Paternoster, 2010). Briefly, deterrence theory argues that the
risk of formal sanction or arrest (referred to as “risk”) can dissuade individuals from offending.
College of Criminal Justice, Sam Houston State University, Huntsville, TX, USA
School of Criminal Justice, University of Cincinnati, OH, USA
Law and Justice Department, Rowan University, Glassboro, NJ, USA
Corrections Institute, University of Cincinnati, OH, USA
Corresponding Author:
Sultan Altikriti, College of Criminal Justice, Sam Houston State University, 816 17th Street, Huntsville, TX 77340, USA.
Youth Violence and JuvenileJustice
2021, Vol. 19(4) 402-422
ªThe Author(s) 2021
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/15412040211029991
Recently, heterogeneity in perceptions of risk has become a central topic in perceptual deterrence
research. Some of the heterogeneity in risk has been attributed to individual differences. Research
has assessed how a range of individual differences and characteristics can influence the formation of
perceptual deterrence factors (e.g., Jacobs, 2010; Loughran, Piquero, et al., 2012; Pogarsky, 2002) or
interact with them (Ray et al., 2020) to affect outcomes of interest. This merger of personality traits
with situational factors has the potential to bring distinct subdisciplines together toward theoretical
consilience (Wikstro¨m et al., 2017).
An individual characteristic that could influence the formation of perceptual deterrence is psy-
chopathic personality traits (PPTs). Prior research has illu strated that PPTs are associated with
reduced conditioning to aversive stimuli (punishment) and increased sensitivity to appetitive stimuli
(reward; Birbaumer et al., 2005; Rothemund et al., 2012). PPTs have also been found to affect risk
appraisal and learning mechanisms by inhibiting behavioral adjustment in response to stimuli
exposure—i.e., those with elevated PPTs may be less likely to learn from experience and update
their perceptions in response (Gregory et al., 2015; Rothemund et al., 2012). As such, past PPTs
likely exert long-term effects on future thinking and behavioral patterns, at least partially through
skewed perceptions of consequences, affecting a range of life course outcomes (Beaver et al., 2014;
Hare, 1996), including violent offending (Corrado et al., 2015). Given this background, PPTs appear
to play an integral role in information processing and learning from emotional experiences (Stillman
& Baumeister, 2010), such as discipline and punishment. This link potentially hinders the appro-
priate formation and development of risk perceptions in response to exposure to stimuli, posing
important implications for perceptual deterrence. Thus, assessing the mechanisms through which
individual traits such as PPTs affect offending addresses a gap in the literature regarding the effects
of distal developmental traits on outcomes of interest via more proximal situational factors.
Although there have been studies that separately assessed the links between PPTs, perceived risk,
and offending, the extant literature has yet to examine how PPTs influence offending through the
influence on perceptions of risk. The current study addressed this gap by evaluating the longitudinal
associations between PPTs, perception of arrest risk, and aggressive offending. Specifically, the
objective of the current study was to estimate the influence of PPTs on aggressive offending through
perceptions of risk during the transitional period from adolescence into emerging adulthood. It was
hypothesized that those with elevated levels of PPTs would exhibit decreased perceptions of risk and
increased aggressive offending. This line of research is important in three regards. First, with a
robust literature linking PPTs to longitudinal patterns of offending, and especially aggressive
offending, it is critical to understand the mechanisms through which PPTs influence offending over
time. Second, variation in features of deterrence, such as risk, exists across individuals. Research on
the formation of such variation informs the developmental pathways that link individual character-
istics to cognition and subsequent behavioral outcomes. Third, if the capacity to be deterred is
dependent on the ability to adequately perceive the risks of offending, then research on the link
between PPTs and risk may contribute to the research on the association between PPTs and
Rational Choice and Deterrence
Rational choice and deterrence theories offer a relatively straightforward explanation of offending:
as benefits begin to outweigh costs, offending becomes more likely (Pratt et al., 2006). Specifically,
rational choice theory relies on the assumption that individuals weigh the rewards of offending
against potential consequences. Although broadly defined, rewards typically encompass concepts
such as thrill, monetary gain, social status, and other perceived benefits. In contrast, risk entails a
combination of social costs or legal sanctions, which factor into the perceived certainty and severity
Altikriti et al. 403

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