Cognitive Development and its Effect on Delinquency

Cognitive development is a crucial aspect of a person’s life. This development helps us learn problem-solving skills, advanced reasoning skills, abstract thinking skills, and the ability to think in concrete ways. All adolescents go through this stage at some time during these crucial years. Cognitive development, in general, refers to being able to think and to reason. (University of Rochester, 2013). As children, individuals learn to think of things in concrete ways such as by combining, separating, ordering and transforming specific details. However, when adolescence begins, these children learn to think more abstractly, they tend to learn how to form their own ideas and questions, and they also tend to consider specific points of view according to varying criteria (University of Rochester, 2013). According to the article by the University of Rochester (2013), during early adolescence, more complex thinking is used in order to make decisions in the adolescent’s current surroundings such as school and home. Some examples of this include questioning authority and social standards and verbalizing their own thoughts and opinions. This can also be considered advanced reasoning skills (Huebner, 2012). Just as with any other process, as a person gets older or more experienced, the process begins to change and develop.

During middle adolescence, the individual learns to expand to include deeper thinking skills such as questioning and analyzing situations more extensively, gaining an idea of what they believe, and developing as individuals into their own identity (University of Rochester, 2013). Finally, during late adolescence, these individuals tend to focus more on things that are less self-centered such as how they feel about politics, history, justice, equality, and other forms of global concepts, career decisions, and the role that they will play in society (University of Rochester, 2013). This can also be considered abstract thinking skills (Huebner, 2012). Per the definition, adolescents learn reasoning and abstract thinking skills. Therefore, adolescents reason either for or against delinquency and delinquent behavior by their maturity levels and the amount of cognitive development that has taken place up until the point of delinquency.

Since adolescence is a time of transition from learning concrete things to learning more abstract things, the cognitive development of an adolescent has a lot to do with his or her decisions, what adolescents think, how they analyze things, and what they choose to believe in. They can either move into positive or negative adult roles depending on their cognitive development. If adolescents’ cognitive development is of a mature nature and they are exploring and thinking about things in a mature way, they should have no reason to become delinquent. At least, that is what mature cognitive development suggests. Iselin et al. (2009) and Gregory J. Jurkovic and Norman M. Prentice (1977) have both done research on the relationship between delinquency and cognitive development. Iselin et al. (2009) states that cognitive control decides whether a person will become delinquent whereas Jurkovic and Prentice (1977) state that the delinquency is more in reference to behavioral deviance based on subclasses.

First, Iselin et al. (2009) states the following when speaking of maturity of adolescents and what cognitive development can do for these individuals: The biological maturation of the brain during adolescence has been linked to the development of goal-directed behaviors (Spear, 2000), which are key to achieving adult-like maturity. Such behaviors include the regulation of impulses, the reliance on internal standards when making decisions, and the ability to weigh costs and benefits of future actions. The vast majority of the research on these abilities in adolescents and adults has focused on the normative development of these skills. However, the same maturity skills that enable some to behave in a positive manner are used by others to improve their abilities to commit crimes (p. 455).

The participants in this study were male offenders from a juvenile detention center as well as young offenders from an adult correctional facility. Iselin et al. (2009), used the Risk, Sophistication, and Treatment Inventory to measure prosocial and criminal maturity in order to do this study. The purpose of this research was to show how cognitive control and maturity relate to one another and so that readers can understand how maturity does affect an individual’s antisocial behavior (Iselin et al., 2009). For this study, the researchers were able to separate psychosocial behavior into two specific components: prosocial and cognitive as well as proactive and reactive components (Iselin et al., 2009).

Throughout this study, researchers found that the relation of prosocial to criminal maturity was low; however, they found that prosocial maturity and criminal maturity were related to cognitive control. This means that the more prosocial the individuals were, the more control they had over their decisions. Therefore, individuals that happened to have higher levels of criminal maturity tended to be able to control their reactions (Iselin et al., 2009). The more that a person can remember their long-term goals, the more that person is going to react in a positive manner and not become delinquent. However, those that cannot remember the importance of their long-term goals are much more likely to be susceptible to delinquency as adolescents and adults. As Iselin et al. (2009) states: Reactive control was a strong predictor of criminal maturity, which suggests that individuals with higher levels of criminal maturity are better at using environmental contextual cues from triggering events to activate mental representations that guide their behavioral decisions (p. 465).

Therefore, from the research, we can conclude that the more prosocial a person is rather than antisocial plays an important role on their cognitive development, which in turn, causes them to push themselves away from delinquency rather than gravitating towards it as the antisocial person may do. According to Iselin et al. (2009), “future research could implement a training program that attempts to improve individuals’ maturity skills through techniques that develop attention to behaviorally relevant information, maintenance of this information, and inhibition of inappropriate automatic responses” (p. 467).

Secondly, Jurkovic and Prentice (1977) look at cognitive development and its relation to delinquency a little differently. They use subclasses which include un-socialized-psychopathic, neurotic-disturbed, and socialized-subcultural. According to Jurkovic and Prentice (1977), the psychopathic delinquents in their study do not respond to social entities and tend to have little guilt or remorse. Neurotic delinquents are more socialized than psychopathic and act in response to conflict that comes from deep inside them. In addition, the subcultural delinquents were well socialized; however, they were more responsive to their peers who were delinquent than that were people who had authority (Jurkovic and Prentice, 1977). Therefore, it is important for these individuals particularly to develop meaningful interpersonal relationships. The sample for this research was of 120 institutionalized delinquent boys. Jurkovic and Prentice used the instruments of the Quay system which included the Behavior Problem Checklist, the Checklist for the Analysis of Life History Data and the Personal Opinion Study in order to complete this study (Jurkovic and Prentice, 1977). Afterward, 12 groups of each subclass were formed in order to study them each.

The findings for this study indicated that psychopathic delinquents were lacking in moral development and cognitive development in relation to their non-psychopathic and non-delinquent counterparts. The neurotic and subcultural delinquents, however, did not show a major lacking in moral or cognitive development, but “their social histories reflected demonstrably delinquent behavior, implying that the sociocognitive maturity of many adolescents is not highly associated with significant moral values” (Jurkovic and Prentice, 1977, p. 419). We can conclude from this study that the more a person is cognitively and morally developed, the less likely they are to become delinquent as well due to how they view relationships and their own environments. There were no recommendations for future research in this article; however, much research could still be done in order to study the correlation between a person’s prosocial behavior and delinquency as well as cognitive development and how it relates to a person in these three categories to gain a better understanding of the topic.

In conclusion, I used these two articles because it is important to see how a person’s development actually influences a person’s delinquency. These two articles showed me that a person’s development, their positive or negative influences, and their ability to mature all determine whether they were actually going to be delinquent during their adolescent years and later. They gave me a clear picture in reference to the importance of cognitive development for adolescents and helped me understand how it affects each person. Because of the type of research it is, this research has a lot of potential in the real world lives of everyday people. We deal with delinquency every day. We deal with children and teens and their delinquent behavior. If there were further research on the topic, maybe we would be able to help these individuals get away from the delinquent behavior and teach them how to be positive, hard-working, responsible adults. If more of this research was done, we would be able to understand how a child’s development plays such a profound role on who they will become and why they will turn out the way they do so that we can possibly help them if we see them following the wrong path. There should be more of this research in the future so that we can eliminate the amount of delinquency by getting into the child’s brain first.

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