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Not (Entirely) Guilty: The Role of Co-offenders in Diffusing Responsibility for Crime

NCJ Number
Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency Volume: 59 Issue: 4 Dated: 2022 Pages: 415-448
Date Published
34 pages

 This article presents a study that tested the diffusion of responsibility hypothesis by examining associations between the presence, number, and role of co-offenders and adolescents’ perceived responsibility for criminal behavior.


The study used data from the Crossroads Study, a longitudinal study of 1,216 male adolescents who were arrested for the first time. A series of generalized ordered logistic regressions assessed how different features of the group context were linked to adolescent offending. Models first examined the relationship between the presence of a co-offender and adolescents’ perceptions of responsibility for their crime, followed by co-offending specific models examining the impact of the number of co-offenders and role in the co-offense. Results: Adolescents’ perceptions of responsibility for criminal behavior decreased when they co-offended, as the size of the group increased, and when crime was not solely their idea. Conclusions: The study's findings are consistent with the diffusion of responsibility hypothesis, which highlights an important psychological experience tied to the group context. The findings contribute to our understanding of adolescent risky decision-making and shed insight into how the group context may facilitate criminal behavior. (Publisher abstract provided)

Date Published: January 1, 2022