Temporal Discounting and Criminal Thinking: Understanding Cognitive Processes to Align Services

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Temporal discounting is an indicator of impulsivity that has consistently been found to be associated with risky behaviors such as substance abuse and compulsive gambling. Yet, although criminal acts are clearly risky choice behaviors, no study has examined temporal discounting in the criminal attitudes and behaviors of adult offenders. Yet, such investigations have potential to understand the cognitive processes that underlie various criminal patterns of thinking and may help distinguish between high and low risk offenders. Therefore, the current study endeavored to fill this gap in the literature using 146 male inmates within 5 months of release. Results found that temporal discounting is correlated with reactive criminal thinking but was not correlated with proactive criminal thinking. In addition, inmates with higher rates of incarceration were also more likely to have higher rates of temporal discounting. Results shed light on the different cognitive processes that may underlie different styles of criminal thinking as well as potential differences in the discounting rates depending on history of incarcerations. This finding has implications for service delivery in criminal justice settings as those with reactive criminal thinking may benefit from specialized treatments for temporal discounting.

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