Although intellectual disability (ID) and criminal offending have long been associated, the nature of this link is obfuscated by reliance on historically unrigorous means of assessing ID and fractionating social cognitive skills. This paper reviews and reports current findings and sets an agenda for future research in social perception, social inference and social problem-solving in ID violent offenders.

Literature is reviewed on comorbidity of criminal offending and ID, and on social cognitive impairment and ID offending. In an exploratory case-control series comprising six violent offenders with ID and five similarly able controls, emotion recognition and social inference are assessed by the Awareness of Social Inference Test (TASIT) and social problem-solving ability and style by an adapted Social Problem-Solving Inventory (SPSI-R).

Violent offenders recognised all emotions except ‘anxious’. Further, while offenders could interpret and integrate wider contextual cues, absent such cues offenders were less able to use paralinguistic cues (e.g. emotional tone) to infer speakers’ feelings. Offenders in this sample exceeded controls’ social problem-solving scores.

This paper confirms that ID offenders, like neurotypical offenders, display specific deficits in emotion recognition- particularly fear recognition- but suggests that in ID offenders impairments of affect perception are not necessarily accompanied by impaired social problem-solving. The implication for therapeutic practice is that ID offenders might be most effectively rehabilitated by targeting simpler, low-level cognitive processes such as fear perception, rather than adapting treatment strategies from mainstream offenders.

Luke Patrick Wilson Rogers, John Robertson, Mike Marriott, Matthew Kenneth Belmonte
Journal of Intellectual Disabilities and Offending Behaviour, 2018