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Personality and Individual Differences 55 (2013) 4752

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Personality and Individual Differences

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Exploring the relationship between the Five-Factor Model of personality,

social factors and self-reported delinquency
Darrick Jolliffe
School of Law, University of Greenwich, United Kingdom

a r t i c l e i n f o a b s t r a c t

Article history: The Big Five is one of the predominant models of personality structure but relatively little research has
Received 30 July 2012 focussed on how the ve factors might be related to self reported offending separately for males and
Received in revised form 25 January 2013 females. This is problematic for understanding the relationship between personality and offending as
Accepted 29 January 2013
females and males typically have different personality proles and differ considerably in self-reported
Available online 6 March 2013
offending. In this research 720 adolescents (376 males and 344 females) completed a Big Five personality
measure along with measures of self-reported offending, socioeconomic status and family structure. The
results suggested that low agreeableness and low conscientiousness were independently related to the
Big Five
prevalence of self-reported offending for males and that low agreeableness was independently related
Self-reported offending to frequent male offending. Low conscientiousness was independently related to female offending, but
Gender so too were interactions between disrupted family and extraversion and disrupted family and openness.
The interaction between extraversion and a disrupted family was also independently related to frequent
female offending. Limitations and directions for future research are discussed.
2013 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

1. Introduction suggested that Eysencks P is inversely related to both A and C

(Costa, McCrae, & Dye, 1991).
The most inuential theory of personality and crime was that of A limited number of studies have compared offending to the
Eysenck (1996), in which he persuasively argued that the relative FFM. For example, John, Caspi, Robins, Moftt, and Stouthamer-
balance of three superordinate personality factors that one pos- Loeber (1994) assessed the relationship between the ve factors
sessed predicted their involvement in crime. Specically, those of personality and delinquency for a group of 350 1213 year old
who have high extraversion (E; sensation seeking, venturesome- boys. The results suggested that the most delinquent boys scored
ness), high neuroticism (N; anxious, depressed) and high psychot- lower on agreeableness, conscientiousness and openness and high-
icism (P; aggressive, impulsive, unempathic) were more likely to er on extraversion. Other studies have generally found low agree-
be offenders (Eysenck, 1996). Eysenck also suggested that female ableness and low conscientiousness to be associated with
offenders have the same personality prole as male offenders, offending, while a lesser degree of support has been found for an
and controversially, that the factors which commonly comprise association with low openness, high neuroticism and high extra-
sociological theories of crime (e.g. low socioeconomic status) have version and offending (e.g. Bartlett & Anderson, 2012; Jones, Miller,
their impact on offending through these personality structures (Ey- & Lynam, 2011; Miller & Lynam, 2001).
senck, 1996; Eysenck & Eysenck, 1973). The variation in the support for the link between specic facets
Currently, the Five Factor Model (FFM) of personality is one of of the FFM and offending might be attributable to the differential
the primary models for organising personality traits. The FFM operationalisation of offending across studies. For example, a
was based on the lexical hypothesis which suggests that all person- number of studies use prisoners to represent offending behaviour,
ality traits have been encoded in language (e.g. Costa & McCrae, but it is well known that not all those who commit offences are
1995), and includes the dimensions of E and N (dened similarly convicted, let alone imprisoned for their offences (e.g. Farrington
to those of Eysenck), as well as Agreeableness (A; altruism, mod- et al., 2003). There is also evidence that personality might be inu-
esty), Openness (O; imaginative, aesthetic sensitivity) and Consci- enced by the experience of incarceration (Newton, 1998). Gener-
entiousness (C; self-discipline, competence). Research has ally, self-reported offending provides a more accurate picture of
more typical, but still serious offending behaviour (Thornberry &
Address: School of Law, University of Greenwich, Old Royal Naval College, Park Krohn, 2003). Self-reports also have the benet of giving a more
Row, London SE10 9LS, United Kingdom. Tel.: +44 0208 331 8949. valid picture of the number of offences that individuals commit
E-mail address: compared to ofcial measures of offending (Farrington, 1998).

0191-8869/$ - see front matter 2013 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
48 D. Jolliffe / Personality and Individual Differences 55 (2013) 4752

This distinction between the prevalence and the frequency of 2. Method

offending was an important contribution of the criminal career
approach to offending (Piquero, Farrington, & Blumstein, 2007), 2.1. Participants
which has yet to be well integrated with the study of personality.
This body of literature suggests that offenders are versatile in Data for this study were obtained from 720 adolescents (376
their offending (as opposed to specialising in certain types of of- males, 344 females) in Year 10 (Mean age = 14.8, SD = .41, Range
fences), and that a small proportion of offenders in any cohort 1317) from three schools in one region in the UK. Over 90% of
commit a disproportionate number of offences. These frequent the sample was Caucasian, while 4.3% were Asian and 2.6% were
offenders differ from more typical offenders in important individ- Afro-Caribbean. There were no signicant differences in age, racial
ual and social background characteristics (Farrington & West, composition, socioeconomic status or family status between stu-
1993). It is not known whether different aspects of the FFM dents at the three schools.
might be associated with frequent as opposed to more typical
offending. 2.2. Measures
An additional potential source of variation in studies linking the
FFM and offending is the gender composition of the samples used 2.2.1. Personality
in past studies. While many studies do not include females, some The Big Five Inventory (BFI; John & Srivastava, 1999) was used
combine males and females into a single category of offenders. to assess personality in this sample. This 44 item scale was de-
This is problematic as research has consistently shown that males signed to assess the ve domains of personality (Extraversion (E),
are much more likely to be offenders than females, males commit Neuroticism (N), Agreeableness (A), Conscientiousness (C) and
many more offences than females (Becker & McCorkel, 2011), and Openness (O)) by asking respondents to indicate how much each
male and female offending has different correlates. Females appear of the statements describes them. The Cronbach alpha coefcients
more inuenced by social factors (e.g. relationships, low socioeco- for the entire sample were found to be: E = .76, A = .68, C = .74,
nomic status; Blanchette & Brown, 2006), and males appear more O = .71, N = .74.
inuenced by individual factors (e.g. impulsivity; Farrington, Self-reported offending. The 8-item self-reported offending ques-
1998). In addition, females consistently demonstrate different per- tionnaire was based on that administered as part of national sur-
sonality proles than males on the FFM, with females generally veys in the UK (see Budd, Sharp, & Mayhew, 2005 for items).
higher on all facets except Openness (Marsh, Nagengast, & Morin, These asked about marijuana use, theft (shoplifting, stealing from
in press). a machine, stealing from a car), serious theft (stealing a car, bur-
Only one study has previously compared the FFM of person- glary, pickpocketing) and serious violence (assault with a weapon).
ality and self-reported offending separately for males and fe- If adolescents indicated that they had been involved in any of the
males. Heaven (1996) administered the FFM to a group of 214 delinquent acts they were asked how many times they had done
high school students (108 females and 106 males) along with it in the last school year. All questions referred to a period of
a delinquency scale. Females scored signicantly higher than approximately nine months.
males on the ve personality domains, but signicantly lower Socioeconomic status (SES). SES was assessed by asking the chil-
on delinquency. A signicant negative correlation between low dren if their parents were employed and also their type and place
agreeableness and violence for males and females was found, of employment. A value from 1 (e.g. teachers) to 8 (long-term
as was a signicant positive relationship between neuroticism unemployed) was assigned according to the system developed by
and vandalism for boys and violence for girls. Conscientiousness the Ofce of National Statistics (Walker et al., 2002). Scores were
was signicantly and negatively correlated to vandalism for dichotomized with the lowest 25% being considered low SES (Far-
both boys and girls. rington & Loeber, 2000).
Recently researchers have examined the potential moderating Non-intact family. Respondents were asked to report whether
role of social environments when examining the relationship be- they lived with both of their biological parents. Over 42% of the
tween personality and offending (Zimmerman, 2010). For example, sample reported living in non-intact families.
in a large study of adolescents Meier, Slutske, Arndt, and Cadoret
(2008) found that the relationship between impulsivity and delin-
2.3. Procedure
quency was stronger in more deprived neighbourhoods. Similar
Anonymous self-report questionnaires were administered in
ndings have been noted in other studies (e.g. Lynam et al.,
classrooms by an experienced researcher. A passive consent pro-
2000), but these have been limited to the examination of single
cedure was used to obtain approval from parents, and active in-
personality traits as opposed to superordinate personality struc-
formed consent was obtained from all eligible students. The
tures. It might be expected, however, that the association between
response rate (based on enrollment gures) was approximately
personality structures (especially low agreeableness and low con-
scientiousness) and offending might be stronger in more negative
social contexts.
This study examines the independent relationship between the 3. Results
FFM of personality and self-reported offending for a group of male
and female secondary school students. In addition the potential 3.1. Personality and offending proles of males and females
moderating role of low SES and disrupted families are explored.
These measures of social environment were selected as both have Table 1 shows the mean scores on the BFI and the prevalence of
been associated with an increased likelihood of offending (e.g. the social factors separately for males and females. For example,
Becker & McCorkel, 2011; Juby & Farrington, 2001) and might males were found to have a mean score of 27.9 on the E scale
inuence personality development. It was hypothesized that low (sd = 5.2) compared to 28.1 (sd = 4.9) for females. This difference
agreeableness and low conscientiousness would be related to both was not signicant (n.s., d = .04). However, females did score sig-
male and female offending with the association stronger for more nicantly higher than males on neuroticism (t = 7.5, p < .0001,
frequent offending. A negative social environment might moderate d = .58) and agreeableness (t = 4.8, p < .0001, d = .33). There
these relationships, but the limited research made this hypothesis were no differences in males and females on the proportion who
more tentative. were of low SES or from disrupted families.
D. Jolliffe / Personality and Individual Differences 55 (2013) 4752 49

Table 1 model (B = .100, Wald = 10.0, p < .002, Exp (B) = .91), followed by
Personality and self-reported offending by gender. low conscientiousness (B = .089, Wald = 11.0, p < .001, Exp
Males Females (B) = .91). The nal model successfully classied 70% of the male par-
N = 337 N = 329 ticipants according to their offending with a total Nagelkerke
Big Five M (sd) M (sd) t p d R2 = 0.15. The model did not change much (71.5% successfully classi-
Extraversion 27.9 (5.2) 28.1 (4.9) 0.6 n.s 0.04 ed, Nagelkerke R2 = 8.1, low agreeableness and low conscientious-
Neuroticism 22.1 (4.8) 25.0 (5.2) 7.5 0.0001 0.58 ness were the only variables independently related) when the
Conscientiousness 28.2 (5.4) 29.0 (5.2) 1.8 n.s. 0.15
Agreeableness 30.1 (5.6) 31.8 (4.5) 4.8 0.0001 0.33
analysis was repeated with a more restrictive criteria for offending
Openness 31.0 (4.9) 30.8 (5.1) 0.7 n.s. 0.04 (3 + offences).
Social factors % % Chi square p d
A similar procedure using stepwise logistic regression was con-
Low SES 11.5 15.3 2.1 n.s. 0.18 ducted to predict female offending. Low conscientiousness was the
Disrupted family 40.4 43.4 0.7 n.s. 0.07 rst variable which entered into the model (B = .134, Wald = 25.0,
Offending p < .0001, Exp (B) = 0.88), followed by the interaction between
Marijuana use 31.1 30.8 0.0 n.s. 0 openness and disrupted family (B = .035, Wald = 6.3, p < .012,
Vandalism 40.7 21.5 30.6 .0001 0.50 Exp (B) = .97) and the interaction between extraversion and dis-
Shoplifting 29.5 29.7 0.0 n.s. 0
rupted family (B = .061, Wald = 17.2, p < .0001, Exp (B) = 1.1). The
Other theft 24.7 14.5 11.7 0.001 0.36
Serious theft 19.4 11.6 8.2 0.004 0.63 nal model successfully classied 69% of the female participants
Serious violence 23.1 8.7 27.4 0.0001 0.63 according to their offending with a total Nagelkerke R2 of .23.
Total 64.6 50 15.7 0.0001 0.34 The model did not change much (84% successfully classied, Nage-
lkerke R2 = 22, low conscientiousness, interaction between open-
ness and disrupted family, interaction between extraversion and
disrupted family were the three variables independently related)
The results of the self-reported offending measure by gender
when the analysis was repeated with a more restrictive criteria
can be seen on the bottom of Table 1. As with previous research,
for offending (3 + offences).
males had a signicantly higher prevalence of offending, except
Figure 1 illustrates the interaction between extraversion and
for marijuana use and shoplifting. In line with previous research
disrupted families for female offending. Amongst females from
on personality and offending (Kruegar et al. 1994), a distinction
non-disrupted homes, those who reported committing offences
was drawn between offenders and non-offenders (or abstainers).
only had slightly higher extraversion scores than those who did
This is supported by relative seriousness of the offences included
not (M = 28.5 compared to 27.6; t = 1.3, n.s.). However, amongst fe-
in the current measure and the signicant versatility in offending
males from disrupted homes those who reported offending had
amongst those committing offences (Farrington, 1998). For exam-
signicantly higher extraversion compared to those who did not
ple, in the current study males who reported marijuana use were
(M = 29.2 compared to 27.2, t = 2.3, p < .03). Similarly, females from
six times more likely to report serious theft and four times more
non-disrupted homes who did not report committing offences had
likely to report serious violence compared to those who did not.
signicantly higher openness than those who reported offences
Similar statistically signicant increased risks were noted amongst
(M = 32.0 compared to 29.5, t = 3.4, p < .001), but this difference
all offences for both males and females.
was not evident for those females from disrupted homes
Table 2 shows the personality proles of offenders compared to
(M = 31.3 compared to 29.9, t = 1.6, n.s.).
non-offenders along with the prevalence of the social factors (low
SES, disrupted family) for males and females separately. It can be
3.3. Personality proles of male and female frequent offenders
seen that males who reported committing an offence scored signif-
icantly higher on neuroticism and signicantly lower on conscien-
The 243 male offenders reported committing a total of 7340 of-
tiousness and agreeableness. Male offenders were somewhat more
fences (or an average of about 30.2 offences per offender), how-
likely to come from low SES and disrupted families, but these re-
ever, a total of 40 frequent male offenders accounted for 60% of
sults were not statistically signicant. Alternatively, compared to
the total number of offences (4416). The most frequent offence
female non-offenders, female offenders had signicantly higher
was marijuana use followed by vandalism, but male frequent
extraversion and signicantly lower openness as well as signi-
offenders had committed an average of 5 (out of the 8) different
cantly lower conscientiousness and agreeableness. Female offend-
types of offences. Likewise, the 172 female offenders reported
ers were signicantly more likely to come from disrupted homes,
committing a total of 4330 offences (or an average of 25.2 offences
but were not of lower SES.
per offender), however, a total of 26 frequent female offenders ac-
counted for 60% of the total number of offences (2651). The most
3.2. Prediction of self-reported offending frequent offence was marijuana use followed by shoplifting, but fe-
male frequent offenders had committed an average of 4 (out of the
In order to determine whether aspects of personality were re- 8) different types of offences.
lated to offending by males independent of social factors a step- Table 3 shows the relationship between the personality and so-
wise logistic regression was undertaken. This method of cial factors for frequent and non-frequent offenders separately for
regression is appropriate with this type of exploratory research males and females. Because of the relatively small numbers of fre-
(Cramer, 2003). In the regression, offending by males was included quent offenders (especially females) these results should be con-
as the dependent variable and the independent variables were all sidered exploratory. Male frequent offenders were signicantly
those that were signicantly different between offenders and lower on agreeableness, and somewhat higher on extraversion
non-offenders (e.g. neuroticism, agreeableness, conscientiousness) (but not signicantly so). Only a very small proportion of frequent
and those with a standardized mean effect size d > .101. Interaction male offenders were classied as low on SES. The nding that
terms between the social factors and personality were also included. agreeableness was the only factor signicantly related to male fre-
Low agreeableness was the rst variable which entered into the quent offending was supported by carrying out a stepwise logistic
regression (as with offenders). Low agreeableness was the only
This is approximately equivalent to a 5% difference between offenders and non- variable which entered into the model (B = .091, Wald = 4.1,
offenders. p < .04, Exp (B) = .91).
50 D. Jolliffe / Personality and Individual Differences 55 (2013) 4752

Table 2
Personality proles of offenders and non-offenders for males and females.

Males Offender Non-offender

N = 218 N = 119
Big Five M (sd) M (sd) t p d
Extraversion 28.1 (5.3) 27.5 (5.1) 0.9 n.s. 0.10
Neuroticism 22.5 (5.0) 21.4 (4.3) 2.0 0.044 0.23
Conscientiousness 27.2 (5.2) 30.1 (5.3) 5 0.0001 0.55
Agreeableness 29.3 (4.4) 31.7 (4.6) 4.7 0.0001 0.54
Openness 30.9 (4.8) 31.3 (5.0) 0.7 n.s. 0.08
Social factors % % Chi square p d
Low SES 13.2 8.7 1.6 n.s. 0.26
Disrupted family 43.4 34.8 2.6 n.s. 0.20

Females Offender Non-offender

N = 162 N = 167
Big Five M (sd) M (sd) t p d
Extraversion 28.8 (5.0) 27.4 (4.7) 2.5 0.012 0.29
Neuroticism 25.4 (4.3) 24.6 (5.0) 1.3 n.s. 0.17
Conscientiousness 27.2 (5.0) 30.7 (4.7) 6.4 0.0001 0.72
Agreeableness 30.9 (4.6) 32.7 (4.1) 3.8 0.0001 0.41
Openness 29.7 (5.0) 31.8 (5.0) 3.9 0.0001 0.42
Social factors % % Chi square p d
Low SES 17.2 13.5 0.86 n.s. 0.16
Disrupted family 53.2 33.7 13.3 0.0001 0.44

Interaction Between Disrupted Family and Extraversion Table 3

29.5 Personality proles of frequent offenders and non-frequent offenders for males and
29 Males Frequent Non-frequent
Mean Extraversion Score

28.5 Big Five M (sd) M (sd) t p d

Extraversion 29.3 (6.1) 27.9 (5.2) 1.4 n.s. 0.26
28 Neuroticism 21.9 (5.1) 22.6 (4.9) 0.7 n.s. 0.14
Conscientiousness 26.6 (5.7) 27.3 (5.1) 0.6 n.s. 0.13
27.5 Agreeableness 27.8 (4.9) 29.6 (4.3) 2.1 0.04 0.41
Openness 31.0 (4.9) 30.9 (4.8) 0.2 n.s. 0.02
Social factors % % Chi square p d
Low SES 5.4 14.7 2.3 n.s. 0.61
Disrupted family 42.6 47.5 0.3 n.s. 0.11

26 Females Frequent Non-frequent

Disrupted Family
Big Five M (sd) M (sd) t p d
Extraversion 31.0 (3.6) 28.5 (5.1) 2.1 0.04 0.51
No SR Offending SR Offending
Neuroticism 25.0 (6.3) 25.4 (4.2) 0.4 n.s. 0.09
Conscientiousness 25.3 (4.0) 27.5 (5.1) 1.9 n.s. 0.44
Fig. 1. Interaction between extraversion and disrupted family for females. Agreeableness 30.2 (5.2) 31.0 (4.5) 0.8 n.s. 0.17
Openness 27.9 (4.8) 29.9 (5.0) 1.7 n.s. 0.40

Female frequent offenders had signicantly higher extraversion Social factors % % Chi square P d

scores and were also signicantly more likely to come from dis- Low SES 8.0 18.8 1.7 n.s. 0.53
rupted families. As with male frequent offenders, female frequent Disrupted family 73.1 49.7 4.9 0.03 0.55
offenders were not over represented in the low SES group. A step-
wise logistic regression was carried out including the signicant
variables (extraversion, disrupted family) and the interaction ef- predicted male offending, and low agreeableness predicted male
fect. The results suggested that the interaction between extraver- frequent offending.
sion and a disrupted family was the only variable independently These ndings t well with the literature on male offending and
related to female frequent offending (B = .042, Wald = 7.6, personality (Miller & Lynam, 2001) and the two personality do-
p < .006, Exp (B) = 1.04). mains identied encompass well established individual risk factors
for offending. That is, the carelessness, being easily distracted and
disorganization of low conscientiousness is a clear description of
4. Discussion high behavioural impulsivity (e.g. White et al., 1994). High impul-
sivity is commonly found to be the best predictor of later offending
It has long been known that males and females differ on mea- in males (Jolliffe & Farrington, 2009) and is a central feature in
sures of personality and measures of offending, but this research inuential theories of male crime (Gottfredson & Hirschi, 1990).
has highlighted that males and females also differ in the way in Similarly, the emotional coldness and selshness of low agreeable-
which personality and offending are related. For males the rela- ness describes low empathy. A lack of empathy is a typical corre-
tionship between personality and offending was relatively late of male offending (e.g. Jolliffe & Farrington, 2004),
straightforward; low conscientiousness and low agreeableness particularly more serious and violent offending (Hare, 1996).
D. Jolliffe / Personality and Individual Differences 55 (2013) 4752 51

There has been previous research to link the impulsivity aspect Longitudinal research examining personality and the timing and
of low conscientiousness to female offending as found in the cur- impact of various social factors would allow more condent con-
rent study (e.g. Komarovskaya, Booker Loper, & Warren, 2007). clusions to be drawn about the relationship between personality,
However, the most important nding of the current research was social factors and the development of offending for males and
that female offenders were not characterized by low agreeable- females.
ness, but by the interaction between the personality facets open-
ness and extraversion with disrupted families.
Disrupted families have been consistently associated with an 6. Conclusion
increased likelihood of offending, but the relationship is far from
straightforward (e.g. Jolliffe, Murray, Farrington, & Vanneck, in Like much previous research, the current study highlighted the
press). Both the family conict that ultimately results in the dis- importance of low conscientiousness and low agreeableness for
rupted family and the reduced parental supervision associated understanding offending. However, this research also demon-
with a single-parent household have been implicated as potential strated that the relative importance of these varied by gender
mechanisms increasing the likelihood of offending (Juby & Farring- and degree of criminal involvement. Future research should aim
ton, 2001). Both mechanisms could be operating synergistically to replicate and expand on these results by continuing to examine
with female personality in the current study. For example, female the relationship between gender, personality, additional measures
non-offenders had signicantly higher openness than offenders, of social background and knowledge about criminal careers.
but this difference was eliminated amongst those from disrupted
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