Impairments in executive functioning give rise to reduced control of behavior and impulses, and are therefore a risk factor for violence and criminal behavior. However, the contribution of specific underlying processes remains unclear. A crucial element of executive functioning, and essential for cognitive control and goaldirected behavior, is visual attention. To further elucidate the importance of attentional functioning in the general offender population, we employed an attentional capture task to measure visual attention. We expected offenders to have impaired visual attention, as revealed by increased attentional capture, compared to healthy controls. When comparing the performance of 62 offenders to 69 healthy community controls, we found our hypothesis to be partly confirmed. Offenders were more accurate overall, more accurate in the absence of distracting information, suggesting superior attention. In the presence of distracting information offenders were significantly less accurate compared to when no distracting information was present. Together, these findings indicate that violent offenders may have superior attention, yet worse control over attention. As such, violent offenders may have trouble adjusting to unexpected, irrelevant stimuli, which may relate to failures in selfregulation and inhibitory control.

Attention, Aggression, Offenders, Executive function, Inhibitory control
Psychiatry Research
Department of Psychology

Slotboom, J., Hoppenbrouwers, S.S, Bouman, Y.H.A., In t' Hout, W., Sergiou, C.S, van der Stigchel, S., & Theeuwes, J. (2017). Visual attention in violent offenders: Susceptibility to distraction. Psychiatry Research. Retrieved from