Year of Publication


Paper Type

Master's Thesis


College of Arts and Sciences

Degree Name

Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology (MACP)




The study's purpose was to determine the influence of risk-taking and impulsiveness on criminal behavior, the factors' relationship to each other and their relationship, to age. It was hoped that the data would help explain the phenomenon of criminal burnout. Subjects were three groups of males aged 18 to 44, classed by their criminal history. Group One was 83 prisoners; group two, 53 subjects who had never been arrested; group three, 28 who had been arrested or incarcerated in the past, but who were not incarcerated at this time (the "erstwhile" group). Measures utilized were the Self-control (Sc) scale from the California Psychological Inventory, Risk-taking (Rtg) and Infrequency (Inf) scales from the Jackson Personality Inventory, a modified Choice Dilemmas Questionnaire, the Impulsiveness (Imp) and Venturesomeness (Ven) scales from the Eysenck, Pearson, Easting, and Allsopp (1985) 1-7, and two behavioral measures: volunteering and cigarette smoking. Intercorrelations were computed over-all and by group; analyses of variance were performed on the three groups' scares on each measure. Impulsiveness and risk-taking were found to be related but separate concepts. Self-control (Sc), Imp, Ven, Inf and the two behavioral measures, volunteering and smoking, differentiated the three groups, with prisoners scaring significantly higher on Imp, Inf and risky behaviors than nonprisoners, and significantly lower on Sc. Causal inferences about the influence of impulsiveness on criminal behavior are supported by the erstwhile group's scores, which fall between the prisoners' and never-arresteds' scores. Causal inferences are further supported by the significant positive relationship of impulsiveness to the individual's total number of arrests, and the significant negative relationship between self-control and total number of arrests, also on the significant correlation between Imp and amount of time elapsed since last arrest. Venturesomeness differentiated the three groups in an unexpected manner. The erstwhile group was the significantly higher scorer, suggesting a transformation of impulsiveness into less antisocial responses are 1) occurring, and 2) adaptive. Risk-taking had nearly a zero relationship to age. Impulsiveness is related to age in only one case: the group who had never been arrested significantly decrease in impulsiveness with age. This is not the case with prisoners or erstwhiles whose impulsiveness was found to decrease not with age but with other salient factors such as number of arrests and amount of time since last arrest/release. These findings suggest not only the critical involvement of impulsiveness in criminality, but also point to the developmental nature of this crucial quality. The value of these findings is their potential use in crime prevention and criminal rehabilitation.