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Original scientific paper

The Role of Empathy in the Relationship Between Intelligence and Criminal Recidivism

Martina Lotar Rihtarić orcid id ; Edukacijsko-rehabilitacijski fakultet, Sveučilišta u Zagreb
Ivana Vrselja orcid id ; Hrvatsko katoličko sveučilište, Odjel za psihologiju, Zagreb
Đulijana Badurina-Sertić ; Centar za dijagnostiku u Zagrebu, Uprava za zatvorski sustav, Ministarstvo pravosuđa Zagreb

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Many researchers (e.g. Farrington, 2003; Joliffe and Farrington, 2004) state that the mechanism linking empathy and offending needs to be better explored, suggesting several ways in which this relationship be viewed. One of them is based on the results of Joliffe and Farringtons’ (2004) systematic review of studies relating empathy to offending. According to these authors, there is a possibility that empathy actually mediates the relationship between some other risk factors and offending. Their review showed that intelligence is one of these risk factors. Therefore, in order to provide a better understanding of the relationship among intelligence, empathy and criminal recidivism, the aim of this study was to examine whether empathy mediates the relationship between intelligence and criminal recidivism. It was hypothesized that lower intelligence would affect intensity of criminal recidivism only indirectly, through lower empathy. The sample consisted of 1600 male prisoners in the Croatian prison system who had to serve a prison sentence longer than 6 months. Average prisoner age was 39 years (SD=11.79) and duration of the prison sentence was 27 months (SD=34.39). All prisoners came to the Center for Diagnostics in Zagreb during 2013, and they all went through psychodiagnostic testing. For the purposes of this paper, data on intelligence, empathy, personality, and criminal recidivism were used. Criminal recidivism was operationalised as the number of prison sentences during a person’s lifetime. Intelligence was measured using the Beta test, empathy using the empathy subscale from the Eysenck Impulsivity Questionnaire, and personality traits (psychoticism, extraversion, and neuroticism) using the Eysenck Personality Questionnaire – Revised/Adult. Results of mediation analysis conducted using the PROCESS macro for SPSS (Hayes, 2012) showed a nonsignificant direct effect of intelligence on criminal recidivism, and a significant indirect effect of lower intelligence on criminal recidivism via lower empathy. Research findings are discussed from theoretical and practical perspectives.


criminal recidivism; empathy; intelligence; prisoners

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