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Social cognition in intellectually disabled male criminal offenders: a deficit in affect perception?

Luke Patrick Wilson Rogers (Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK)
John Robertson (Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, Nottingham, UK)
Mike Marriott (Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK)
Matthew Kenneth Belmonte (The Com DEALL Trust, Bengaluru, India) (Centre for Autism, University of Reading, UK) (Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK)

Journal of Intellectual Disabilities and Offending Behaviour

ISSN: 2050-8824

Article publication date: 12 March 2018




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. The purpose of this paper is to review and report current findings and set an agenda for future research in social perception, social inference and social problem solving in ID violent offenders.


The 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 and social problem-solving ability and style by an adapted Social Problem-Solving Inventory.


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.



Wilson Rogers, L.P., Robertson, J., Marriott, M. and Belmonte, M.K. (2018), "Social cognition in intellectually disabled male criminal offenders: a deficit in affect perception?", Journal of Intellectual Disabilities and Offending Behaviour, Vol. 9 No. 1, pp. 32-48.



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