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Cause or Catalyst: The Interaction of Real World and Media Crime Models

Abstract

The effect of exposure to media content containing criminal models is unresolved with two perspectives currently competing. One perspective perceives media provided models of crime functioning as direct causes of criminality or as crime triggers; the other sees media crime models serving as crime forming catalysts or as crime rudders. A study of copycat crime provided an opportunity to simultaneously weigh evidence for both models by examining the comparative roles of real world versus media provided crime models. Data obtained from the anonymous surveys of 574 male and female correctional inmates was employed. Results show that individual offenders, particularly young males, exposed to both real world and media crime model sources were at higher risk for copying criminal behaviors. While both real world and media sources contributed to predicting past inmate copycat behaviors, they also interacted significantly. With the additional enhancement of real world models, the media appear to form crime by providing instructional models to inclined individuals. The results did not support strong direct media exposure effects and the model of media as stylistic catalysts for crime was more supported. The media remains best perceived as a rudder for crime more than as a trigger.

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Notes

  1. About one in six reported that they had looked for a fight after visual media and about one in four had wanted a gun after visual or music media. Twenty-eight percent reported that they had considered committing a copycat crime, and 22 percent reported that they had attempted a copycat crime. Copycat attempts were most often committed in the inmate’s teenage years. Half of the attempts occurred when the inmates were younger than 18 years old. Most copycat attempts were solitary crimes and spur of the moment acts; one-fifth of the copycat crimes were violent and three of five were successful. Males were significantly more likely to report copycat crime attempts than females (males 26 %, females 10 %).

  2. Scale Items: “How many of your friends and family have “taken something from a store without paying for it”, taken something from someone using force”, broken into a house and taken something”, stolen a car”, gotten into a fight and hurt someone.” Responses: none, 1 or 2, 3 or 4, 5 or more.

  3. Few differences have been reported between juvenile offenders and non-offenders in media consumption and use. See Bandura (1973) and Newburn (1994).

  4. Inmate Reported Famorite Media:

    Films and TV 30.7 %
    Music 19.5 %
    Video games 9.3 %
    Print 7.2 %
    Internet 7.2 %
    No favorite 25.8 %
  5. In addition to the interaction effects reported, an interaction between real-world crime model availability and interest in crime content was also examined in a regression analysis not shown. This analysis included an interaction variable between real world model availability and interest in crime content created by the traditional procedure of calculating the product of the two source variables. Multicollinearity issues precluded the inclusion of the source and interactive variables in the model. Overall results from this regression model showed minor changes in the significance and relative magnitude of impact of the other predictor variables, but as a more parsimonious model the interactive model performed slightly stronger in terms of explained variance (R2 = .258). The performance of the interaction product factor (B = .100, sig. @ .000) supported a conclusion that an interaction between real world and media crime models is a potential powerful generating source for copycat behavior. The interaction variable’s Beta value of .234 was exceeded only by perceiving the media as helpful for crime information (Beta = .295) in the model.

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Surette, R. Cause or Catalyst: The Interaction of Real World and Media Crime Models. Am J Crim Just 38, 392–409 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12103-012-9177-z

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Keywords

  • Copycat crime
  • Crime models
  • Interaction effects
  • Media catalyst
  • Criminogenic media