Delayed Reward Discounting in Adolescents with Sexual Offense Convictions
Type of DegreeDissertation
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Current explanatory models of sexual offending have been useful in elucidating the etiology of maladaptive sexual behaviors. Prominent models of sexual offending, however, are based largely on empirical findings regarding the offending patterns and psychological characteristics of adults. Consistent findings indicate that adolescents who engage in sexually inappropriate behaviors differ from adult sexual offenders in important ways including cognitive functioning, offending trajectory and persistence, as well as response to psychological treatments aimed at addressing inappropriate sexual behaviors. Thus, the downward extension of explanatory models based on the adult literature to adolescent sexual offending is not supported by the extant sexual abuse literature. Importantly, current models of sexual offending emphasize the role of poor decision-making, particularly impulsive responding, in the development of sexual offenses. A precise operationalization of decision-making, however, remains absent in virtually all prominent sexual offending models. The current study, therefore, sought to elucidate the role of decision-making styles in the development of adolescent sexual offending. Based on a growing behavioral economics literature, the current study operationalized decision-making via three delayed reward discounting tasks. Participants consisted of 30 detained adolescents with sexual offense convictions in residential sex-offender treatment and 30 non-sex-delinquents in a state juvenile detention center. All participants completed a hypothetical monetary task, an actual reward task, and a hypothetical delayed reward task based on reductions in post-adjudication requirements (i.e., time in a sex-offender registry and probation). Results indicate that adolescents with sexual offense convictions discounted future rewards significantly less than non-sex-delinquents on all three delayed reward tasks. Personality characteristics, measured by objective clinical scales, indicate participants presenting high delayed reward discounting were more likely to present behavioral impulsivity, unstable interpersonal relationships, and social insensitivity than low-discounters. Patterns of delayed discounting were not significantly related to sexual offense characteristics, including the age and number of sexual abuse victims. The current findings indicate that decision-making styles may be useful in distinguishing adolescents with sexual offenses from non-sex-delinquents; however, delayed reward discounting may be less useful in elucidating specific aspects of adolescent sexual offending. Importantly, however, the currents findings indicate that adolescents with sexual offenses may not be characterized as impulsive and insensitive to future consequences when compared with adolescents who commit non-sexual-offenses.