Friday, 29 January 2016

Research Seminar, Sarah Edwards, Middlesex University


Date: Thursday 11th February
Location: Town Hall Committee Room 2
Time: 12:00 - 13:00
Title: Empathy, Mentalisation and Violent Behaviour

Abstract: Quantifiable outcomes of victim empathy interventions have not shown consistent reductions in recidivism, leading to calls for a movement away from the use of empathy within the Criminal Justice System (Mann & Barnett, 2012); however, qualitative analyses have shown more promising results (Adler & Mir, 2012). Moreover, there are limitations surrounding current measures of empathy, hindering effective assessment of the effects of interventions on recidivism. This has been exacerbated as empathy has recently been reconceptualised as a process, in which, an empathic response may be influenced by situational contexts (Barnett & Mann, 2012); however, this model is yet to be tested. The current research focuses on building a stronger conceptualisation of empathy within an ecologically derived understanding of the empathic process from the perspective of violent offenders. This research was structured across two stages. Using focus group explorations of these concepts by knowledgeable researchers and practitioners, stage 1, aimed to consider the issue of state empathy, and how the empathic process may be affected by different situational contexts. After stage 1, a thematic analysis informed the development of a scenario based assessment and interview schedule to assess empathising and mentalising skills. Stage 2 tested these materials using four male and two female offenders between the ages of 16 and 25, who had committed a violent offence. After stage 2, a phased process was also applied to the assessment and analysis of the findings. Transcripts were assessed for expressive or instrumental violence to allow a more refined interpretation of the level of affect regulation; individual differences and wider influences on behaviour (e.g. substance misuse and life stressors) were also considered. Thematic Analysis was used to conduct an inductive and iterative analysis to derive themes from the scenarios and interviews to explore which factors appeared to be influencing the use of empathy and mentalisation. Findings highlight the barriers which may enable or hinder an empathic or mentalising response; for example, how implicit theories of violent offending and affect regulation influence this process on a situational basis. Findings further illustrate the limitations of current measures; proposals for development are discussed.

Biography: Sarah Edwards is a PhD research student and Research Associate within the Department of Psychology at Middlesex University. Prior to this, Sarah worked in secure forensic and specialist educational facilities (including the Prison Service, Secure Children’s Homes and Pupil Referral Units) with adult and young offenders who have committed violent and/or sexual offences. Sarah also holds an MSc in Forensic Psychology from Middlesex University. 
Sarah’s research interests include empathy, mentalisation and the efficacy of offending behaviour interventions. Sarah’s doctoral research is focussed around the uses of empathy and mentalisation within criminal justice interventions aimed at reducing re-offending. 

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