Empathy, mental state recognition, and violent behaviour: the influence of situated context

Edwards, Sarah (2018) Empathy, mental state recognition, and violent behaviour: the influence of situated context. PhD thesis, Middlesex University.

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Abstract

This thesis considers how a situational context may influence empathy and mental state recognition. It explores if and how interventions drawing on empathy can be of practical use in preventing or reducing violent offending behaviour, and addresses the limitations of trait approaches which have hindered previous research and practice within the field. An exploratory, multi-modal design facilitated analysis of data from multiple forensic settings, including: two focus groups with practitioners and researchers; six interviews with young violent offenders; and 290 items of archival data collated from a prison-based victim awareness programme (including a sub-set of violent offender narratives). Contrasting epistemological approaches were drawn on pragmatically at different stages, including: thematic analysis (critical realist perspective) and discursive psychology (social constructionist/relativist perspective). Findings revealed the influence of situated context on social norms and expectations of behaviour; for example, individuals followed in-group values even if this meant not helping an individual in distress. Analysing the social construction of empathy during victim awareness interventions revealed how violent offenders use sophisticated techniques to demonstrate ‘doing victim awareness’, whilst justifying or minimising violence, victim blaming, or diminishing the character of the victim. Familial victims or the offenders themselves were most recognised as the people harmed by an offender’s criminal behaviour; whereas the direct victims of crime were the least recognised. More broadly, analysis revealed socially normative reasons not to empathise in some circumstances. Finally, ‘resilience’ discourses produced by surrogate victims during interventions, helped resolve offenders’ past harms and supported narratives of desistance. In conclusion, victim awareness interventions hold a valuable role in helping offenders work towards a crime free life; however, changes are needed to develop the efficacy of these programmes. Interventions could focus on enhancing reasons to offer empathy and helping behaviour, while challenging justifications for withholding empathy to others. Wider social change challenging the social norms of sub-cultural peer groups is also important when reducing violence and promoting empathy.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Research Areas: A. > School of Science and Technology > Psychology
B. > Theses
Item ID: 23457
Depositing User: Vimal Shah
Date Deposited: 30 Jan 2018 16:48
Last Modified: 10 Sep 2018 13:26
URI: http://eprints.mdx.ac.uk/id/eprint/23457

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