VII. Indirect Relationships
Research has consistently shown that delinquents score, on average, 8 percentage points lower on IQ tests than nondelinquents. As a result, criminologists began investigating the mechanisms by which intelligence influences criminal behavior. Little evidence emerged, however, to suggest that the relationship between intelligence and delinquency was purely direct. For that reason, criminologists shifted their attention toward examining the possible indirect effects relating intelligence to criminal behavior. Studies have revealed that school performance is an important mediating factor (Ellis & Walsh, 2003). Individuals with lower intelligence are more likely to struggle in their academic endeavors, which may then increase their likelihood of delinquent involvement. After school performance emerged as an important factor in explaining the intelligence -> crime relationship, the next step was to determine the specific mechanism by which school performance exerts its effects on delinquency. Research soon revealed that an individual’s attitude toward school was a substantive predictor of school performance (Ellis & Walsh, 2003). Simply put, intelligence predicts school performance, which affects an individual’s attitude toward school, which then influences delinquent involvement; specifically, adequate school performance is frequently associated with a good attitude about school, and poor school performance frequently results in a poor attitude.
Many criminologists attempt to explain the indirect relationship between intelligence and crime from a social bond perspective. The core premise of social bond theory states that individuals are born with the innate ability to commit crime; therefore, people need to be stopped from acting on these innate and selfish antisocial desires. The inhibition to commit crime is accomplished when an individual forms a strong bond to society. There are four social bonds that tie individuals to society: (1) attachment, (2) commitment, (3) involvement, and (4) belief.
Of these four bonds, two—commitment to school and attachment to school—are especially relevant in explaining the indirect relationship between intelligence and crime. Attachment is the degree to which an individual has close bonds with other individuals (e.g., teachers). This bond is believed to help restrain the adolescent from committing crimes. In theory, a student with a strong attachment to a teacher will try to avoid causing disappointment and will thus steer clear from acting out delinquently. However, when an individual’s intellectual ability interferes with his or her ability to succeed in school, his or her frustration level may increase and subsequently weaken his or her attachment to school officials.
Commitment refers to an individual’s level of dedication to prosocial activities, such as school. For example, an adolescent who is heavily involved in school will have more to lose by committing crime, not to mention simply less time to think about and commit crimes, compared with an individual who is not as committed to his or her education. However, if an individual’s intellectual ability is limited, then success in school may suffer, and the student may be less likely to maintain a strong commitment to his or her education.
VIII. Intelligence and Interventions
We stated earlier that no known social intervention has successfully increased IQ scores over the life course. Programs designed to increase IQ and thus reduce crime and violence are likely to fail. Even so, this should not be taken as evidence that cognitive interventions in general are likely to fail. Indeed, quite the opposite is true: Programs that reduce criminal involvement and violence are more likely to use principles of cognitive therapy and behavioral modeling.
IQ appears to be immutable after childhood, but individuals, even those with low IQs, can be instructed to recognize criminal thinking patterns and to alter those patterns. Evidence indicates that IQ is not as important as the way individuals reason, the moral values they hold, or even their level of impulsivity. Because of this, interventions that occur early or later in the life span can be effective in reducing delinquency and crime even if they do not increase one’s IQ.
One effective early intervention program is the Perry Preschool Project, which offers children from lower socioeconomic status with IQ scores in the range of 60 to 88 the opportunity to receive 2 years of intensive preschool education. The results obtained from this project revealed that children who received these 2 years of preschool had fewer arrests and were more likely to be employed during adolescence (vs. youth with the same IQ and who did not attend preschool; Ellis & Walsh, 2003). Although IQ was impacted by the program, educational achievement was and remained the most important factor related to future delinquency.
One of the goals of the U.S. correctional system is to keep criminals from returning to prison once they have been released. Many rehabilitative programs have been implemented to help achieve this goal. Research has consistently indicated that the most effective programs for incarcerated individuals are those that target and change thinking styles and that use behavioral modification techniques (Ellis & Walsh, 2003). These programs are effective in part because they target known, changeable individual factors and they do so at a level the offender can understand. Cognitive behavioral programs attempt to change what offenders think, and they try to alter the behavior of offenders through positive and negative reinforcements.
It is also instructive that psychodynamic treatment modalities have not been proven effective with the criminal population. Scholars believe that psychodynamic programs are mismatched to the average offender’s IQ level. Psychodynamic treatment is effective for individuals with average to above-average IQs, but it is not effective for below-average-IQ individuals.
Although it is important to focus on particular risk factors that place an individual at a higher likelihood of recommitting crimes, such as cognitive styles, other characteristics specific to the individual should also be considered. These characteristics, often referred to as responsivity factors, need to be identified because they have the potential to interfere with an individual’s ability to succeed in a treatment program. There are several responsivity factors to consider, such as personality disorders; attention deficit disorder; child care problems; transportation needs; and, most important to this discussion, intelligence.
An offender’s intelligence level should be considered before he or she is placed into a correctional treatment program. For example, very-low-functioning offenders will have a difficult time succeeding in treatment programs that require written homework or abstract thinking. Placing intellectually limited offenders into rehabilitation programs that require at least an average intelligence may waste resources and increase the likelihood of the person failing the program or returning to prison.