REVISITING THE ROLE OF DELINQUENT ATTITUDES ON CRIMINAL BEHAVIOR
Thomas, Kyle J.
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By employing global attitude measures, which ask respondents to evaluate the abstract idea of a behavior absent of context, rather than specific measures that inquire about the appropriateness of a behavior under various circumstances, prior work has failed to capture the complexity of delinquent attitudes. As a result, research has: 1) not adequately assessed the dimensionality of the attitude construct; 2) potentially mis-specified the attitude-delinquency relationship and; 3) been unable to investigate the intersection between attitudes and situational contexts in the emergence of delinquent behavior. This dissertation seeks to address these gaps using two sources of data. The first comes from a sample of 11th graders (n = 223) from a large public high school in the Pacific Northwest and the second comes from four waves of the Gang Resistance Education and Training (G.R.E.A.T.) Evaluation, a longitudinal study of around 1,400 adolescents from six cities across the United States. The results raise questions about the conclusions that have been made from studies using global attitude items. First, in both data sets attitudes form multidimensional, crime-specific constructs (e.g., attitudes towards fighting and attitudes towards theft). Second, for most models, the factors constructed using specific attitude items have a larger standardized effect on behavior and behavioral intentions and lead to better model fit than do the global items. Third, specific attitudes towards fighting demonstrate discriminating effects on behavioral intentions, indicating that behavior in context is related to the attitude toward that behavior, in that specific context. There was minimal evidence for discriminating effects with theft attitudes, however. Collectively, these results call for a renewed focus on the complex relationship between attitudes, situations, and delinquent behavior.