Criminality and intelligence in Finland

James Thompson summarizes a recent paper ("Intelligence and criminal behavior in a total birth cohort: An examination of functional form, dimensions of intelligence, and the nature of offending"):

They found that lower levels of intelligence are associated with greater levels of offending, that the IQ-offending association is mostly linear, with some curvilinear aspects at highest and lowest levels, and that the pattern is consistent across multiple measures of intelligence and offending. In some ways this is exactly as predicted and already observed, since the available literature shows that individuals with lower IQ are more likely to engage in criminal behaviour. Criminal offending was measured with nine different indicators from official records and intelligence was measured using three subscales (verbal, mathematical, and spatial reasoning) as well as a composite measure. The results show consistent evidence of mostly linear patterns, with some indication of curvilinear associations at the very lowest and the very highest ranges of intellectual ability. [. . .]

Note that violent crime is an order of magnitude higher in the bottom 20% of the population by ability than the top 20% of population by ability. The pattern is generally a linear one. The subscales of intelligence show the same pattern, though perhaps the spatial scores show a slightly less pronounced differential effect.

So, why do dull minds carry out criminal acts? The main effect is driven by general intelligence, so that raises a number of possibilities, in that highly g-loaded factors such as deficits in executive functions, including inhibition, processing speed, and attention are potentially linked to criminal behaviour. People with higher levels of intelligence are more dependable ( Deary et al., 2008b) and conscientious ( Luciano, Wainwright, Wright, & Martin, 2006), suggesting that they are more likely to think about the moral consequences of their actions compared to individuals with lower levels of intelligence. People with lower intelligence have been found to act more impulsively ( de Wit et al., 2007 and Funder and Block, 1989). People with lower levels of impulse control and related constructs, such as low self-control, have also been found to be significantly more likely to engage in various forms of criminal and antisocial behavior ( Gottfredson and Hirschi, 1990,Moffitt et al., 2011 and Pratt and Cullen, 2000). While only preliminary, current research suggests that lower levels of intelligence reduces the ability to weigh the costs and benefits of individual action, resulting in a greater propensity to make impulsive decisions, which in some cases involve illegal behaviour.


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