I am currently a full-time PhD research student in Forensic and Criminal Psychology. I have a Bachelors of Science (BSc) Honours Award in Psychology with Criminology. I also have Upper-Credit in Higher National Diploma (HND) completed 10 years ago. After my HND, I worked full-time as a Customer Service Manager for three years before rejoining the academic world for my BSc and the present PhD. I work very hard as a student researcher and have completed an empirical pilot study for my School Professor and Departmental Reader which is awaiting publication. During my spare time, I do often exercise. I work as a volunteer youth mentor in my local community and also in a school as a volunteer teaching assistant for dyslexic children.
An Investigation into the Cognitive Distortions of Various Criminals
Researchers have found that offenders adopt cognitive distortions that inhibit their guilt, justify their actions and allow them to deny criminal responsibility whilst perpetrating their offences. For example, Ward (2000) argued that sex offenders who sexually attack women justify these attacks with the belief that women who exhibit flirtatious behaviour provoke the attack by arousing sexual feelings beyond their self-control. The above author also argued that those who sexually abuse children justify their actions by believing that children have benefited by knowing about sex early. Scully (1988), on the other hand, argued that rapists usually hold the myth that provocatively dressed women have themselves to be blamed when sexually coerced.
Gavin (2009) argued that society, especially the male population, perceive a sexual relationship between an older female and an underage boy as an accomplishment rather than a crime. Such a boy, according to the author, would be applauded for such a healthy initiation into the world of sex. The author also found that the media portrays such women as “celebrities” rather than “criminals” (Gavin, 2009, p.2). Their male counterparts, on the other hand, are seen as evil and such crime, according to the author, would earn them long custodial sentences and see their names appearing on the sex offenders register for long periods of time, whereas female sex offenders are more likely to receive suspended sentences. The author cited a case scenario by which a science teacher who had sex with a 14 year old girl in his class was sentenced to nine years in prison and was fired from teaching with numerous other consequences preceding that. Compare this case to that of female sex offender Mary Kay LaTourneau, who was convicted of statutory rape of a 13-year-old boy in 1997, but received only a suspended sentence. The woman later persisted to marry the same boy ‘in the full glare of publicity’ when he reached 21 (Gavin, 2009, p.3), and this was sponsored by a very popular entertainment company. This scenario is an indication of lack of guilt, shame, remorse and justification of criminal activity by the female sex offender.
Gavin & Hockey (in press) found that people adopt the victim blame myth whilst engaging in deviant activities. From this finding, it is possible that society’s view of female sex offenders as celebrities might distort their thinking in such a way that they might deny any criminal responsibilities inherent in their offences, rather shifting the blame to the underage boys, the media and the society who admire them.
Gavin’s (2009) work mentioned above, as well as many other reviewed literatures on the cognitive distortions paradigm, has been confined to sex offenders. There are no studies presently found to have investigated whether or not offenders in other crime types, such as burglary, theft and robbery also adopt this victim blame myth. However, the writers of the Forensic Psychology Practice Portfolio in 1999 argued that ‘cognitive distortion is a normal psychological process that all human beings engage in, regardless of age, gender, sexual orientation, race, culture or socio-economic group’ (p.3). The credibility of this argument is questionable because it was made from mere common sense assumption without any empirical basis, unlike Ward (2000) and Scully’s (1988) argument, which came after empirical tests of their hypotheses. Therefore, this study aims for empirical investigation of this claim to see if it applies to the wide range of criminal types and to identify any differences if they exist. It will enrich the forensic psychology archive by bridging the gap which exists in the cognitive distortion paradigm.
Design and Method
The nature of the research demands mixed methodology. It is exploratory, therefore qualitative research is appropriate and this will be accomplished by semi-structured interviewing, which will be thematically analysed thereafter. Phenomenology will be used as it is designed to gain insight into the offenders’ cognitions when committing their offences. The Luria-Nebraska neuropsychological test battery will be used to measure the participants’ cognitive abilities; the PPI test for psychopathy will also be used, thus quantitative methods comes in as these two tests are experimental and aim for objectivity. The quantitative method helps to ensure that the researcher identifies an objective truth with “precision and certitude” whilst carefully controlling all the extraneous variables during the investigation (Crotty, 2003, p.9). Matched subjects design will be used to ensure that each participant in the major group is equally matched with another within the control group based on the cardinal variables which are to be investigated (Forzano, 2008).
Sampling and Participants
The major component of the sample will be people convicted of crime with a matched subjects design being used to ensure representativeness in a control group. The control group will be individuals without any present criminal records. Adult participants of different age groups will be recruited from both groups. Both participant groups will be recruited in equal numbers to ensure that neither group is over nor under represented.
Data Collection and Access to the Participants
Access to participant groups through external agencies, such as the Probation Service, will be explored once University Research Ethics Panel approval, together with any research ethics committee approval, is achieved. Previous research protocols have indicated that contact with such agencies is not recommended without such prior approval (Gavin, 2008).
Ethical guidelines will be strictly adhered to as set out by the British Psychological Society (BPS), University of Huddersfield, such as obtaining written consent from all the participants, assurance of anonymity, informing them of their rights of withdrawal and omitting uncomfortable items and procedures. The researcher will also respect the policies of all the organisations involved, including the applicable laws governing the organisations themselves throughout the period of this research.
Cognitive distortions: A practitioner’s portfolio. Forensic Psychology Practice Ltd. FPP Ltd, 1999 [online] Available at:
[Accessed on 1st April 2009]
Crotty, M. (2003) The Foundations of social research: Meaning and perspective in the research process. London: SAGE.
Forzano, G. (2008) Research Methods for the behavioural sciences. United Kingdom. Cengage Learning EMEA.
Gavin, H. (2009) “Mummy wouldn’t do that” The perception and construction of the female child sex abuser. In: N. Billias (ed.) Evil Women and the Feminine. Rodopi Press: Oxford, UK.
Gavin, H. & Hockey D. (in press) ‘Criminal careers & cognitive scripts: An investigation into criminal versatility’ The Qualitative Report.
Gavin, H. (2008) Understanding Research Methods & Statistics in Psychology. Sage Publications: London.
Scully, D. (1988) ‘Convicted rapists’ perceptions of self and victim: Role taking and emotions’ Gender & Society, vol. 2, pp.200-213 [online] Available at:
[Accessed on 30th May 2009]
Ward, T. (2000) ‘Sexual offenders’ cognitive distortions as implicit theories’ Aggression and Violent Behaviour, vol. 5, pp. 471-501 [online] Available at:
[Accessed on 30th May 2009]