Problem solving and criminal violence



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Texas Tech University


The relationship between interpersonal cognitive problem solving and criminal violence was investigated in two studies. In study 1, the problem-solving skills of respective violent and nonviolent male juvenile offenders were compared using the Means-Ends Problem-Solving Procedure (MEPS). The results indicated no group differences in problem-solving skill.

Both the MEPS and the Problem Solving Inventory (PSI) were utilized in a second study of problem-solving skills among violent and nonviolent adult male offenders. Unlike the findings with juveniles, violent adult offenders performed more poorly on the MEPS (but not the PSI). Moreover, MEPS scores were associated with multiple indices of violence and prominently contributed to a discriminant function which correctly classified 98% of the subjects as violent or nonviolent. The MEPS results strongly suggested that violent offenders were deficient in problem-solving skill relative to nonviolent offenders. Finally, a self-report measure of violence, the Delinquency Check List, correlated poorly with both problem-solving and violence indices.

Differences between juvenile and adult subject findings are discussed in terms of differences in the violence/nonviolence criteria employed in the two studies as well as possible developmental differences in problem-solving skills between juvenile and adult offenders. The results are related to other studies of violence and several typologies of violent behavior. Differences in MEPS/PSI results are discussed in terms of functional distinctions between the two tests, differential effects of institutionalization, and sources of distortion in skill ratings on the two instruments. Implications of the results for a problem-solving model of criminal violence are explored and promising directions advanced for future research. The results support the value of problem-solving as an appropriate treatment intervention for violent offenders.