When a good thing goes bad: using personality theory to reconceptualise overcontrolled pathways to offending

Hamilton, L.J., 2021. When a good thing goes bad: using personality theory to reconceptualise overcontrolled pathways to offending. PhD, Nottingham Trent University.

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Abstract

This thesis disputes the commonly accepted view that all offending is driven by undercontrolled coping, and in the following chapters compelling arguments are put forward that a substantial proportion of individuals who have committed violent, sexual and/or general offending have too much self-control. Theoretically, this challenges the accepted wisdom in forensic psychology and criminology that self-control is a unidimensional construct that is inversely related to offending, which posits that the lower one's self-control the greater likelihood of criminal behaviour, while higher self-control protects against offending. It is argued in this thesis that the form of the relationship between self-control and offending is not linear, but can be better described as quadratic, where high self-control (overcontrol) is a multi-faceted phenomenon rather than simply the opposite of low self-control.

The systematic review in Chapter 4 is the first synthesis of the extant literature on overcontrol and offending, and this applies for the first time a novel theory of overcontrol (Lynch, 2018a) borrowed from clinical psychology. The mixed studies systematic review confirms that a substantial proportion of people in contact with the criminal justice system could be identified as overcontrolled, with as many as half of forensic psychiatric in-patients and a third of prisoners identified as overcontrolled. Cross-sectional studies were the most robust designs amongst the eligible studies in the systematic review, and overcontrolled individuals were consistently characterised by high levels of restraint, which included high defensive denial, low impulsivity, excessive emotional inhibition, and cognitive and interpersonal rigidity. Two potential overcontrolled clusters have also been confirmed, that is inhibited suppressors and controlled suppressors. A shared feature is high restraint, but affective and interpersonal functioning is more impaired in the inhibited suppressor than the in controlled repressor cluster.

The original clinical descriptor of the "chronically overcontrolled violent offender" offered by Megargee (1966, p.2) was considered too narrow and incomplete, and its core premise that violent offending by overcontrolled individuals is driven by excessive anger regulation is unsubstantiated (Chapters 4, 5, and 6). It was therefore concluded that Megargee's theory offers limited explanatory value in understanding the concept of overcontrol, and it is contended that the evidence points to a need for an alternative guiding theory. Lynch's (2018a) newer and more comprehensive neurobiosocial theory of overcontrol, comprises three factors: biotemperamental biases (nature), socio-developmental experiences (nurture), and compulsive self-control (coping). The systematic review reveals that the biotemperamental characteristics and socio-developmental experiences of overcontrolled individuals with convictions have rarely been examined, and these are explored in Chapters 6 and 7, respectively. The coping component is more frequently studied, with some support for the five coping themes and the four markers of maladaptive overcontrol outlined by Lynch (2018a). Initial proof of concept testing in Chapters 6 and 7 confirms that overcontrol is more than an excessive anger regulation issue as proposed by Megagree (1966), rather it is a restricted way of managing emotions and relating. According to Lynch (2018a), this highly restricted and inhibited way of being results in chronic emotional loneliness and often high levels of hidden distress. Expression of these needs for connection and distress are often rare but intense, with some of these episodes of emotional leakage bringing overcontrolled individuals into contact with the criminal justice system.

Finally, the findings in this thesis suggest that millions of overcontrolled individuals are in prison and forensic hospitals across the world, with many people being inaccurately assessed and treated using outdated models predicated on undercontrolled coping that emphasise the use of central cognitive-control strategies linked to inhibition to restore normative functioning. Emerging evidence tells us these treatments are at best ineffective and at worse iatrogenic (Low & Day, 2015; Redondo et al., 2019), as overcontrolled individuals do not need to learn more skills to inhibit, rather they need to learn how to relax inhibitory control and increase emotional expressiveness, receptivity, and flexibility. The findings in this thesis indicate that further work is needed to understand overcontrol in a forensic context, and the ethical, practical, and economic challenges associated with identifying this substantial untreated or mistreated forensic population needs urgent attention by policymakers, treatment providers, and researchers.

Item Type: Thesis
Creators: Hamilton, L.J.
Date: June 2021
Rights: The copyright in this work is held by the author. You may copy up to 5% of this work for private study or personal, non-commercial research. Any re-use of the information contained within this document should be fully referenced, quoting the author, title, university, degree level, and pagination. Queries or requests for any other use or for a more substantial copy should be directed to the author.
Divisions: Schools > School of Social Sciences
Record created by: Linda Sullivan
Date Added: 29 Jun 2022 13:10
Last Modified: 29 Jun 2022 13:10
URI: http://irep.ntu.ac.uk/id/eprint/46514

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