Reducing Antisocial Behavior Through Prosocial Role-taking

Reducing Antisocial Behavior
Through Prosocial Role-Taking

Engaging children in prosocial behaviors is a technique that has long been known to be effective in promoting their prosocial tendencies (e.g. Barton, 1981; Staub, 1979; White, 1972). Children who are assigned responsibility to teach others or who are encouraged to participate in prosocial activities subsequently display more prosocial behavior. Assigning children responsibility for others enhances their prosocial behavior (Maruyama, Fraser, & Miller, 1982; Peterson, 1983). In fact, cross-cultural research has found that children from cultures in which youngsters are routinely assigned responsibilities for assisting others are more prosocial than children from other cultures (Whiting & Whiting, 1975).

There are also many examples of the success of programs that have engaged older individuals such as antisocial adolescents and adult offenders in prosocial activities in which they play the role of helpers for others. In this article we present a rationale for recommending such interventions in programs designed to lead antisocial individuals to adopt a prosocial life-style.

Helper Therapy

Some explanations are similar to those that were suggested to account for the success of a “Peer Therapist” program that trained instituionalized adolescent delinquents as “Peer Therapist” for their delinquent peers and reduced the recidivism of the “Therapists” from 58% to 6% (Ross & McKay, 1979). The program was referred to as “Helper Therapy”, a term used by Riessman (1965) for his observation that you get more out of therapy if you are the therapist than if you are the patient. Riessman was not referring to money. Therapy for many therapists may help their financial well-being more than it helps the financial well-being of the patients who must pay their fees, but Riessman was referring to something non-pecuniary: the good feeling that comes from helping people. The adolescent “Therapist” helpers in the “Peer Therapy” program were reinforced for their prosocial activity not by monetary or other tangible rewards but by social rewards in the form of acceptance by their adolescent peers. However, their frequently voiced comments indicated that they were more strongly reinforced by the fact that their activities made them feel worthwhile. Helping others may not be selfless because helping others leads to a more favorable mental state for the helper.

Altruism was probably first created when our primitive ancestors realized that cooperation increased the odds of survival in a danger-filled environment. However, in modern times there are other rewards. For example. antisocial individuals who engage in such prosocial role-taking may be rewarded by their newly acquired feelings of prosocial competence. They feel empowered and they may develop a sense of self-efficacy. They experience a sense of acceptance and belonging in a prosocial culture. They may come to view themselves as prosocial.

You Become The Role You Play

There is another important benefit that can be obtained by helping others. Research in social psychology indicates that individuals tend to attribute to themselves characteristics of the roles they play.

Bem (1967) argued that if we can subtly get people to behave in ways in which they do not normally behave, they will come to attribute to themselves the characteristics of people who usually behave in these ways. Individuals who engage in prosocial acts learn to think of themselves as prosocial, caring people (Perry & Perry, 1983). They develop a ‘prosocial identity’.
If you treat an individual…as if he were what he ought to be and could be, he will become what he ought to be and could be. Author unknown
Antisocial individuals who are led to engage in prosocial roles as helpers for others may come to see themselves in a very different light – they may come to see themselves as prosocial rather than anti-social. They begin to attribute to themselves positive, prosocial characteristics which were previously foreign to them. They also come to appreciate the value of prosocial behavior, to recognize the awards it can bring them, and to acquire social skills which can serve as alternatives to their antisocial behavior. They learn that prosocial behavior “feels good”.

Although seldom explained this way, the helper therapy principle is operative in a variety of “self-help” groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Weight Watchers in which participants become advocates of alcohol avoidance or improved eating habits.

The Story Of Our Life

How individuals behave is strongly influenced by their “scripts” (or their “self-narrative” that they develop through their social experience that tells them who they are and why they are that way (Huesmann & Eron,1989; Maruna, 1999). They come to behave in ways that fit their narratives. Studies of the process of “desistance” demonstrates that offenders who “go straight” make pro-social sense of their lives. The research indicates that “In order to desist from crime…ex-offenders need to develop a coherent, prosocial identity for themselves” (Maruna, 2000). Providing service to others is one way individuals can change their antisocial self-narrative. One of the earliest examples of this phenomenon was the “Peer Therapist” program.

Becoming Good By Doing Good

Very often the only way to get a quality in reality is to start behaving as if you had it already C.S. Lewis

The institutionalized antisocial adolescents who were persuaded to act as “therapists” for their delinquent peers came to view themselves as prosocial problem-solvers rather than the antisocial, problem-ridden individuals they thought they were (and indeed were) before their involvement in the program. They were treated as cohorts rather than patients; as research assistants in the long-term research project.

It is important to note that the adolescents’ participation was voluntary. They were never given any material rewards for acting as helpers. Therefore, they needed to explain to themselves why they were acting in such an unaccustomed, prosocial manner. They asked themselves, “How can I explain to myself why I am engaging in helping others?” Their answer was “perhaps it is because that is the way I am”.

Antisocial individuals who are led to engage in prosocial role-taking may justify their reasons for doing so by attributing to themselves characteristics of people who normally behave that way. “I must be prosocial if I behave prosocially”. Engaging in prosocial activities leads them to change their antisocial self-identity to that of a prosocial one.
The adolescents’ previous antisocial behavior had been underpinned by an “antisocial” self-narrative that they had developed as a way of making sense of the way they usually behaved – the way that they believed was the best way, or the only way to deal with their problems. It became over time their “story” about how they must behave in order to cope with their environment. Their new experiences helped them to create a different “story” as they began to develop a prosocial narrative and self-identity (cf. McAdams, 1993; Maruna, 1999; Sampson & Laub, 1993; Ward & Maruna, 2007).

We act ‘as if’ we are all the things we want to become.
We act as if’ we’re decent and caring and bright and talented. And we eventually become these things.
Mimi Silbert

Is It Better To Give Than To Receive?

It is important to realize that the adolescents’ improvement was not engendered by their receiving help from their peers. It was engendered by their giving help. The improvement in the behavior of the adolescents did not occur until they actually had been assigned peer “patients” and had begun helping these other adolescents. It was by acting prosocially that they became prosocial. Perhaps it really is better to give than to receive.

Reciprocal Altruism

However, it is also important to note that they became therapists only after they had received help from their peers. Thus, their participation as “therapists” may constitute “reciprocal altruism”. It was more than just direct reciprocity (“if you help me, I’ll help you”) since the individuals they helped when they became therapists were new residents – not the individuals who had previously helped them.

Perhaps this indicates that adolescents who have experienced very little acceptance and support and considerable rejection and maltreatment in the past can become prosocial by being helped by caring peers. Unfortunately, this did not appear to be the case in this instance – the adolescents who received the help of their peers but left the institution before they became “therapists” for others did not make much improvement in their behavior while in the institution or fare as well after release. It appears that receiving help was not as helpful as giving help.

That conclusion is reinforced by evidence that among adolescent students engaged in peer tutoring programs and peer counselling programs in schools, those who serve as tutors and counsellors make gains in knowledge and attitudes to school; but there is little evidence of any benefit to the tutored students (Resnick & Gibbs, 1988). However, it may be that being helped by their peers may be an effective way to motivate antisocial adolescents to subsequently engage in helping others.

The Power of Positive Acting

Hans Toch (2000) has argued that many “altruistic” programs such as those that involve offenders in assisting underprivileged persons including the elderly, children, and the disabled not only assist the recipients of the services but also yield the offenders “a sense of accomplishment, grounded increments in self-esteem, meaningful purposiveness, and obvious restorative implications”. He notes that such activities accord well with the principles of restorative justice. They also enable them to find a sense of community and belonging and encourage social integration rather than social exclusion (Midlarsky, 1991).

Perhaps we could learn a lesson from the substantial benefits that accrued for the institutionalized mentally ill in the 1820s when “moral treatment” was introduced to help free these “patients” from their shackles and other forms of extreme control and maltreatment. Moral treatment was based on the belief that they should be treated with kindness. However, it was more firmly based on the principle that they could spend their time helping others (Clouette & Deslandes, 1997). Would that this relatively unknown principle could have been operationalized, (or at least included) in the rationalization behind the deinstitutionalization movement that ‘freed’ large numbers of psychiatric patients in the modern era.

If you want to look in a crowd and find the person who is going to help someone else, look at someone who has been damaged.
Michael Levy (The lives of Heroes)

More Than Just “Feel Good Programs”

Helping others enables people to feel good not only about themselves but also about other people (Post, Underwood, Schloss & Hurlbut, 2002). Experiencing positive emotions such as kindness from helping activities can displace the helper’s harmful negative emotional states such as rage, hatred, fear, depression, anxiety, anger and hostility which can trigger antisocial behavior (Post, 2005).

The “Good Lives” Model

Some practitioners have begun to consider the use of positive psychology in offender treatment. Positive psychology emphasises the facilitation of optimal mental and physical health rather than combating dysfunctional thoughts, feelings, and behaviors (Seligman et al., 2004; Snyder & Lopez, 2001). The goal of positive psychology is to enable people to live flourishing lives with greater health, well-being, and meaning. By focusing on the strengths of happy people, positive psychology has identified factors that facilitate a more satisfying life. The factors include work, helping others, being a good citizen, developing spirituality and integrity, realizing potential, and self¬-regulating impulses (Seligman, 2004).

Positive Psychology is the foundation of the “Good Lives” model of offender treatment which represents a paradigm shift from deficit-based to strength-based programming (Ward & Stewart, 2003). Rather than focusing on reducing “criminogenic needs or criminogenic risk factors”, the model suggests that programs stress teaching skills and values and providing opportunities and social supports to enable offenders to improve their functioning and obtain a better quality of life. Such strength-based programs treat offenders as “community assets” and seek to provide opportunities for them to develop prosocial identities and engage in work that is helpful to others (Burnett & Maruna, 2006). Research on desistance from a criminal life-style has found that the most successful desisters changed their self-identity from that of an offender to that of a person who cares about others (Maruna, 2000).

Such an approach is far from new. The basic principles were presented in the 1960’s and 1970’s under the ‘New Careers Movement’ in which, for example, poverty- stricken citizens were engaged in constructive social programs to relieve the hardships of their peers (Pearl and Riess¬man, 1965). Pearl (an unsuccessful U.S. Presidential candidate) suggested that “the best people to solve a social problem are the products of that social problem”. Interestingly, he suggested training such individuals in an offender rehabilitation program (Reasoning and Rehabilitation “R&R”, Ross & Ross, 1986 ) that has been successfully delivered throughout the world to reduce reoffending teaches prosocial competence. The R&R program equips participants with skills they ccan apply in order to bring about positive social change (Pearl, 1989).

A Rose by Any Other Name

If you can’t say something nice,
don’t say nothing at all.
Thumper (in the movie “Bambi”)

An important component in the “Peer Therapist” program in the 1960’s was what was termed “normalizing” or “depathologizing”. The program staff were asked to avoid talking about their clients’ behavior in pathological terms or in terms of personal deficits. Instead they focused almost exclusively on their competence, prosocial skills and personal strengths – no matter how limited they might be.


Recent neuroscience research indicates that experiences in life become recorded and hard-wired in our brains in neural connections. It indicates that neural connections formed by exposure to criminogenic and/or pathogenic environments can engender an “antisocial brain”. It also suggests that engaging in prosocial experiences may foster the development of prosocial connections in our brains that can lead us to engage in further prosocial activity. New prosocial experiences can yield new connections and a new prosocial life story.

Simply thinking about someone else’s problems lights up the same part of the brain that gets activated when we reflect on our own problems. The compassion we feel registers in our brain’s pleasure zones. Neuroscientists, Jorge Moll and his colleagues at the National Institutes of Health (2005) have now found persuasive evidence that altruistic acts activate pleasure centers in the brain that usually are activated in response to food or sex.

Helping, Health and Mental Health

Helping others can help the others but helping others may help the helpers even more. It may have significant physical and mental health benefits. The health benefits of helping others have been touted by innumerable cliches such as “Good deeds are good medicine”. There now is strong evidence that there is considerable substance to such cliches.

For example, symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder have been found to be reduced among veterans after caring for their grandchildren (Hierholzer, 2004). Helping can also neutralize negative emotional states which cause stress and stress-related illness (e.g. Fredrickson, 2003; Sternberg, 2001).

Research in bioneurology has also established that our physiology can be changed by helping others (e.g. Post, 2007; Schloss, 2005). For example, examination of the saliva of students watching a videotape of Mother Theresa found evidence of elevation in their immunity-boosting chemicals (McClelland, McClelland, & Kirchnit, 1988). In fact, helping others can lower stress hormones (Field, Hernandez-Reif, Quintino, Schanberg & Kuhn, 1998).

Recent studies have confirmed an association between helping activities and both emotional well-being and life satisfaction (e.g. Dulin & Hill, 2003; Liang, Krause, & Bennett, 2001; Krueger, Hicks & McGue, 2001; Morrow-Howell, Hinterlonh, Rozario, & Tang, 2003). Actively engaging in helping others can also reduce feelings of depression (Musick & Wilson, 2003). Helpers can gain the good feeling of vicariously sharing the joy of the person they help (Smith, Keating, and Stotland, 1989).

Just thinking about helping can have positive physiological effects. For example, students who watched a film about Mother Theresa working with poor and sick individuals strengthened the immune system of the observers but not that of students who watched a neutral film (Edwards & Cooper, 1988).

Helping others can even substantially increase the helper’s longevity. Research reviews indicate that individuals who help others may reduce their own chances of dying (Post, 2005). For example, a five year study of elderly couples found that those who provided emotional support to spouses, friends and relatives were half as likely to die over the five-year period. Another study found that among AIDS patients those who reported high levels of altruism, including helping other AIDS victims, lived longer. “Altruistic persons live longer than egoistic individuals” (Sorokin 2002).

Helpers Get High

Such research supports the view that it is not what we receive from relationships that is most beneficial. It is what we give. There appears to be a “helper’s high,” similar to the endorphin rush that runners often experience. The “helper’s high” can produce immune-enhancing biological changes.

However, the prosocial role-taking activities that we are discussing are not just “self-help programs”. They are “other help programs”.

Nobody should be only a receiver. If people are going to feel good and be accomplished and be part of something, they have to be doing something they can be proud of. … So if we want them to be pro-society, then we ought to set-up the vehicles that help them to be somebody in more traditionally socially positive ways.
Mimi Silbert, Delancey Street.

It Can Be Done and It Has Been Done. There is a remarkable and growing number of examples that demonstrate that “helping others” programs can be implemented even with antisocial individuals:

Adolescent Psychiatric Patients: Ross & McKay’s (1979) “Peer Therapist” program not only reduced recidivism, it also eliminated self-mutilation among the adolescents in the institution who were acting as “therapists”. Crabtree and Grossman (1974) achieved a major decrease in self-mutilatory behavior using a very similar intervention – they persuaded the adolescents in an adolescent psychiatric ward to help other high-risk patients.

The Equip program: A major reduction in recidivism among male delinquents was achieved in the United States in two residential settings for antisocial adolescents with a history of aggressive, disruptive and antisocial behavior through a program that included a remarkably similar approach to the “Peer Therapist” program of the 1960’s. In the U.S. program, juvenile offenders were taught values and social skills which they used as helpers for their peers. In a 12-month post-release follow-up, recidivism for these adolescents was only 15% compared to recidivism of 40.5% for the control group (Gibbs, 1996).

Wharton Tract Narcotics Treatment Program: The success of a multifacetted program for young offenders with lengthy histo¬ries of criminal behavior and of heroin use has usually been attributed to the problem-solving component. However, it combined training in problem solving with a form of group activities in which the offenders acted as “agents of change for others”. At the end of a two-year follow-up period, partici¬pants had a significantly lower rearrest rate (49% vs. 66%) than a comparison group. Moreover, those reconvicted had a lower rate of re-commitment to institutions, implying that their reoffences were of a less serious nature (Platt et al.,1980).

Uvic: Arguably, the most effective programs ever conducted in a prison was a program that provided post secondary courses in the humanites to adult prisoners with little education and long criminal histories (Duguid, 2000). As a key part of this program, prisoners acted as “teaching assistants” to their prisoner peers. The prisoners entered the program as students but later became tutors for their fellow inmates. The program re-labelled the prisoners as students then as educators rather than criminals. The prisoners could not attribute their prosocial behavior to some external rewards such as a favourable parole release decision. They came to view themselves as teachers who valued helping others learn. They became committed to prosocial behavior by advocating it to others – their prisoner/student peers. Although there were unavoidable shortcomings in the evaluation, the four year outcome in terms of reduction in recidivism was remarkable: “more than three times as many of a matched group of non participants…were reincarcerated (52%) as of the Uvic participants (14%) (Ross, 1980). Nowhere else in the criminological literature can one find such impressive results with recidivistic adult offenders.

Offenders as Researchers: Hans Toch (1997) has reported that reduced violence can accrue among violent individuals in prison by engaging them as research assistants engaged in the study of violence by their peers.

Delinquents Studying Delinquency: Bryan McKay (1979) who trained the institutionalized adolescents in the “Peer Therapist” program, has pointed to the benefits in terms of reduced delinquency that were obtained by his having delinquents on probation act as research assistants in the study of delinquency.

Therapeutic Community: A classic example of engaging offenders in helping roles is the many therapeutic communities (TC’s) that have been implemented in prisons, secure hospitals, and institutional and community settings for drug abusers (e.g. De Leon, 2000; Cullen, 1997). Meta-analyses indicate that TC’s have reduced recidivism for incar¬cerated substance-abuse offenders (Aos et al.,2006,b; Lipton et al.,2002). Outcome studies of prison-based TC programs with com¬munity after-care have reduced both recidivism and drug use (Knight, Simpson, & Hiller, 1999; Martin, Butzin, Saum, & Inciardi, 1999; Wexler, Melnick, Lowe, & Peters, 1999). There are also a few controlled studies that have reported positive outcomes for TC’s in drug treatment settings (e.g. Falkin, Wexler, & Lipton, 1992). Athough they involved only small samples of participants, two rigorous studies have indicated the value of Therapeutic Community programs for mentally-ill offenders. (Sacks, Sacks, McKendrick, Banks & Stommel, 2004; Van Stelle & Moberg, 2004).

However, metanalyses also highlight the many problems involved in evaluating TC’s (Lees, Manning & Rawlings, 2004). For example, since TC’s are designed to involve the whole “community” of patients (and staff…) it is difficult to obtain an untreated sample. Moreover, among the many in-prison TC’s, attempts are made to introduce multiple changes in the organization, management and culture of the prison. It is difficult to determine the relative contribution of such contextual factors to outcome. Many provide a wide range of programs services and it is difficult to determine the relative contribution to outcome of any one of them. For example, the TC program in Grendon prison in the U.K. has yielded decreases in recidivism (Cullen, 1997; Marshall, 1997; Wilson & McCabe, 2002). However, this institution also provides a form of Psychodrama which, as we will argue later, may contribute significantly to the outcome.

Although in Therapeutic communities the participants are expected to function as helpers for their peers, there is seldom any training like R&R provided for these helpers that could equip them with skills or values to effectively play such helping roles. Perhaps that is why the average reduction in recidivism of in-prison T.C. programs has only been found to be between 5.3% and 6.9% (Aos, Miller & Drake, 2006).

TwelveSteps: The Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) involves recovering alcoholics in helping in the recovery of other alcoholics and doing so without any tangible reward. The AA literature suggests that “he discovers that by the divine paradox of this kind of giving he has found his own reward, whether his brother has yet received anything or not” (AA Big Blue Book, 1952). There is mounting evidence from controlled evaluations and no shortage of anecdotal evidence and personal testimony that attests to the benefits for the ‘helper addict’ in terms of their own recovery.

Smoking Cessation: There is persuasive though only anecdotal evidence that smoking cessation programs programs work best when participants become “evangelists” against or smoking.

Delancey Street: The well known Delancey Street program is an example of programs that engage offenders or substance-abusing residents in helping others in the community. Delancey residents work with senior citizens, juveniles from poor areas and people who are disabled, and they contribute to the community in myriad ways, including running a food-distribution service for 60 charitable organizations in the San Francisco area. The program takes the position that “This is about people helping each other. It’s not enough in life to take care of yourself …Life isn’t just about you”.

Offenders as ‘Caretakers’: Many institutions have implemented programs in which inmates ‘work’ as volunteers in helping developmentally delayed children, handicapped, long-tem institutionalized schizophrenic patients or other individuals who have more problems that they have themselves. These programs demonstrate one way whereby individuals can change their own antisocial self-narrative. Careful screening is obviously required for such helping assignments as is careful supervision.

Prison Listeners: There are currently more than 1,500 prisoners in 153 prisons in the UK and the Republic of Ireland who have been Samaritan trained as “Listeners” who offer 24-hour support to fellow prisoners in distress.

Pet Therapists: A growing number of institutions engage offenders in caring for and training stray or abandoned pets that would otherwise be “put to sleep”. However, it is not only the pets that benefit. Animals have been shown to significantly reduce the prisoners’ feelings of isolation and frustration (Moneymaker & Strimple, 1991). Caring for pets yields prisoners a sense of importance and of being needed. Most dogs give unconditional, non-judgmental love and acceptance and offer spontaneous affection and undying loyalty (Cusack, 1988). The offenders learn that caring is something they can do without fear of rejection, and they learn that caring feels good.

There are many prison pet programs in such countries as Canada, United States, England, Scotland, Australia, and South Africa. The pets include not only dogs but cats, birds, mice, guinea pigs, birds, fish, horses, farm animals, and exotic animals.

The sanitized Hollywood movie depiction of the Birdman of Alcatraz depicted how his violent behavior was curbed when he began caring for birds. There are many other anecdotal reports of the benefits of such programs. For example, the Bird Hand-Rearing Project in Pollsmoor Prison, one of the most notorious correctional facilities in South Africa that houses hardened criminals and dangerous gangs involves prisoners serving long sentences (usually for violent and serious crimes) who hand-raise exotic birds. Caring for another creature has led the offenders to become more caring themselves.

There have been a few controlled, empirically based studies of “Pet Projects . For example, a study conducted in a forensic hospital in Ohio compared two wards, identical except that one had pets and one did not. It was found that the medication level doubled in the ward without pets, as did the incidence of violence and suicide attempts (Lee, 1983).

The “Pawsitive Directions Canine Program” at the Nova Institution for Women in Canada teaches the women a non-punitive dog obedience training method (operant conditioning) which they then apply in training unwanted rescue dogs which are subsequently returned to the community as family pets or assistance dogs for disabled persons. A comprehensive evaluation indicated that the canine program not only provides the dogs with loving carers, but also improves the offenders’ self-esteem; self-discipline; patience and empathy. Moreover, it produces positive changes in the institutional environment and contributes positively to other institutional programs. The program is closely linked with the R&R program and thus enables the women to apply, and obtain reinforcement for using key cognitive skills taught in the R&R program such as problem solving, alternative thinking, responding to the feelings of others, verbal communication, and consequential thinking in their work with the dogs (Richardson-Taylor & Blanchette, 2001). Hopefully, research will eventually find evidence that the offenders’ animal caring activity generalizes to their interactions with humans after release.

Court-ordered Community Service: This is one way to engage antisocial individuals in prosocial role-taking activities. However, the potential benefit to the individual of serving the community may be compromised if the activities they are assigned are demeaning. Cutting grass as part of a chain gang on a golf course in Florida might help golfers find their errant golf balls but it is unlikely to have much rehabilitative impact on the offenders.

If the community service order is presented only as punishment, participants are likely to attribute their prosocial role-taking not to their prosocial motivation but to a court order. However, many community service order workers relate to offenders in a manner that is fully in accord with the empathic understanding, genuineness, positive regard and respect, warmth, and concreteness of expression that are essential in producing constructive client change. Prosocial role-taking can occur in many supervised assignments that involve worthwhile service that clearly benefits people in the community. The social service and not only the sanction should be what is stressed.

The community services that the offenders are assigned need not involve them in directly working with people.

Implications for Intervention

It is important to note that it is rare for programs that engage prisoners, patients or other clients in helping roles to equip the helpers with the requisite skills to effectively perform such roles. Engaging antisocial individuals in helping activities with others is unlikely to be helpful either for their ‘clients’ or themselves if they do not have the social/cognitive/emotional skills and values that are required for prosocial competence. Training them in such skills should precede their engagement in prosocial role-taking (cf. Gibbs, Potter, Barriga & Liau, 1996). The R&R program provides an empirically-based, highly structured, and manualized program that provides such training.

Part of the rationale for the prosocial role-taking activities we recommend is that programs for offenders often have disappointing results because, with the best of intentions, they emphasize their problems rather than their strengths. When a program places individuals in the “offender role” or the “victim role” they often come to believe that characteristics associated with those roles are enduring characteristics of themselves and behave in accordance with their perception. Thus, when we treat offenders as victims rather than victimizers we may lead them to view themselves as helpless and powerless. Treating offenders as victims can also unintentionally feed their egocentricity. A primary goal of the R&R program is to combat egocentricity. It seeks to help offenders to decrease their self-centredness and increase their concern for others.

Focusing on their shortcomings or their victimization may inadvertently reinforce their attempts to avoid taking responsibility for their actions. This does not mean that their behavior cannot be attributed to environmental, cultural and economic factors. Such factors must be recognized and acknowledged both by the offender and the Trainer. In fact, by acquiring prosocial thinking and emotional skills, the offenders may be better able to identify and understand how these past and current factors have influenced them in their choice of an antisocial life-style. However, R&R programs aim to help offenders realize that they are not destined to remain victims of their background circumstances but can become self-determined individuals who are personally responsible for what happens to themselves.

Excerpted from “Rehabilitating Rehabilitation: Neurocriminology for Treatment of Antisocial Behaviour” (Ross & Hilborn, 2008) Published by: Cognitive Centre of Canada www.cognitivecentre.ca Email: [email protected]

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