Current literature has explored the relationship between attitude and empathy towards offenders and mental illness and highlighted the prominence of negativity observed within the general public. However, there is a lack of knowledge with a focus on mentally ill offenders, and how varying offence and mental illness types are empathized for within the general public. The present study involved the use of attitude and empathy questionnaires, along with a hypothetical vignette of a crime, where participants were exposed to a violent, sex or terrorist offender with depression, schizophrenia or no mental illness, being the control condition. Attitude scores were obtained as well as empathy scores before and after vignette exposure. A total of 100 participants, 22 males and 78 females, participated in this study and were randomly assigned to one of nine study conditions. Three analyses were performed being a correlation, mixed factorial ANOVA and mixed factorial ANCOVAs. The first analysis revealed a significant positive correlation between attitude and empathy. The ANOVA revealed that significantly more positive attitudes and higher empathy was displayed towards violent offenders followed by sex offenders then terrorists. However, a significant increase in empathy following exposure to the vignette was observed towards terrorists. Furthermore, significantly higher empathy, and a greater increase in empathy was displayed for offenders with schizophrenia. The ANCOVAs revealed that when controlling for attitude held towards the offence type, a significant effect of mental illness emerged, demonstrating higher empathy towards sex offenders and terrorists with schizophrenia; no significance was found for violent offenders. The results in this study provide a basis for understanding how offence and mental illness types can influence attitude and empathy exhibited towards mentally ill offenders, within a general public sample. Implications for the study and future research will be discussed.
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