Why are some people more likely to commit crime than others? Answers to this question, which is at the heart of criminology, can be grouped into two broad views. On the one hand, dispositional perspectives argue that stable factors within the individual, such as lack of self-control, lie at the roots of criminal conduct. Sociogenic perspectives, on the other hand, put the locus of study outside the individual and point towards factors such as rough neighborhoods, parental unemployment, and deviant peers, as the main causes of crime. In spite of ample empirical support for both views, there has been relatively little constructive engagement with each other.
The ERC funded CRIMETIME project (ERC Consolidator Grant 772911) aims to address this gap in the current knowledge base by outlining and testing a new perspective on criminal behavior that integrates both views. This perspective is premised on the idea that short-term mindsets encourage crime and specifies how both individual dispositions and sociogenic variables can encourage such mindsets. We test this theory using a combination of longitudinal research and behavioral field experiments.
Besides aiming to mend the current theoretical disconnect in criminology and providing the foundation for an integrative paradigm, the research program goes a step further by using the paradigm as the basis for a behavioral intervention to reduce crime. Virtual reality technology in combination with a smartphone application are used to instill a future-oriented mindset in offenders. The objective is not only to improve our understanding of delinquency but also to provide a template for a scalable and evidence-based intervention to reduce it.
Research output: Two dissertations, scientific articles, a monograph, several conferences, smartphone application, virtual environment.
Funding: This research is funded by an ERC Consolidator Grant [Grant Number 772911–CRIMETIME].
Selected scientific output:
- van Gelder, J. L., Averdijk, M., Ribeaud, D., & Eisner, M. (2020). Sanctions, short‐term mindsets, and delinquency: Reverse causality in a sample of high school youth. Legal and Criminological Psychology, 25(2), 199-218.
- Cornet, L. J., & Van Gelder, J. L. (2020). Virtual reality: a use case for criminal justice practice. Psychology, Crime & Law, 26(7), 631-647.
Department: Criminology Project category: Research project Project languages: English Status of project: Ongoing Project duration: Project start: 2018
Team members & projects:
- Jean-Louis van Gelder (PI)
- Job van der Schalk – senior researcher & Liza Cornet – postdoc
Research shows that delinquent behavior is strongly characterized by shortsightedness. Offenders tend to overestimate the more direct benefits of behavior, while the long-term consequences are often underestimated. One of the assumptions in this research project is that by strengthening future-oriented thinking and acting, delinquent behavior can be reduced. Existing judicial interventions already respond to this idea, but research shows that most behavioral interventions have limited success in reducing delinquent behavior. Departing from previous attempts to instill a ‘long-term mindset’, in the current intervention young offender and student samples will be confronted with a vivid version of their ‘future self’. Previous research has shown that interaction with a vivid version of the future self can positively influence behavior in the here and now. The intervention being developed consists of two parts: a virtual reality intervention in which participants interact with and embody their future self in virtual reality, and a smartphone application in which participants interact with their future self.
- Jessica Deitzer – postdoc
Harsh and unpredictable environments are linked to negative outcomes, including crime. Short-term mindsets are often viewed as an irrational deficit; yet, in harsh and unpredictable environments where the future is seen as less stable and guaranteed, individuals may opt to focus on the present. Impulsive or risky action can be adaptive in such environments and it is no longer rational to deliberate based on long-term rewards and costs if individuals see their future as short, hopeless, or out of their control. So-called unpredictability schemas may act as mediator of the association of harsh and unpredictable environments with short-term mindsets and/or offending. In this project, I employ longitudinal data collected from Z-Proso and PROSPER Peers to investigate whether harsh and unpredictable environments are associated through unpredictability schemas with short-term mindsets, then crime.
Benjamin Ganschow – PhD-student
My project focuses on helping young people make more future-oriented decisions through feeling more connected to who they want to become – their future self. This project explores how we construct this connection to our future selves in adolescence through analyzing longitudinal data, but also how it can be improved through interventions. We attempt to improve this connection through applying classic perspective taking and mental contrasting strategies, but also in combination with virtual reality and age-morphing software. Virtual reality may help during perspective taking as it can transport the person in the body, and possibly the mind, of their future self.
Sebastian Kübel – PhD-student
Prior research has found that victims and offenders share a number of characteristics and in fact are often one and the same person. That is, victims are more likely to offend, and offenders have a higher propensity to get victimized. My project examines how short-term mindsets might account for this relationship. Previous research has shown short-term mindsets to predict not only crime but also to be related to victimization. In my project, I apply a causal perspective to the victim-offender overlap and examine the hypothesis that being victimized is an aversive event that reinforces short-sightedness and, as a result, may also lead to increased delinquency. The project uses data from the Zurich project on the Social Development of Children and Youths.