Criminally selfish – or not?

How to reduce crime rates is one of the big issues that Governments are judged on. So it makes sense to try to understand why criminals actually commit crimes.

A recent study by researchers at the University of Bonn suggests that contrary to what many might believe, criminals aren’t any more selfish than the rest of us. The study involved an experiment with inmates at a prison. Each inmate taking part was given 5 euros. They could choose to keep the full amount or give some away to another (anonymous) inmate.

This “Dictator” game has been tested out in hundreds of studies looking at different groups of people, and is often used as an indicator of altruism.

Crucially, the game is completely anonymous, so there were no repercussions for being selfish and keeping the full amount. Yet, researchers found that prisoners did not give any less away than in other Dictator games, with other types of participants.  Even those convicted of crimes such as theft did not display particularly selfish behaviour.

So it sounds like even ex-convicts might make good neighbours…

The full paper is here

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