Guðjónsson and Bownes (2002): The Attribution of Blame and Type of Crime Committed

Guðjónsson and Bownes,  (2002) – The attribution of blame and type of crime committed: data for Northern Ireland



This study in the OCR A2 specification and Forensic Psychology Unit is categorised in ‘Turning to Crime,‘ ‘Cognition,‘ and then ‘Attribution of Blame and Social Cognition.

Social Cognition is ‘the study of how people process social information, especially its encoding, storage, retrieval, and application to social application.’

There are two background theories for this study:

  • Rotter (1975) – Locus of Control
  • Heider (1958) – Attribution Theory

Locus of Control refers to two different typologies of  attributing blame to behaviour:

  • External – Attributing the cause of events to external focuses such as bad luck or other people. People who tend to attribute the causes of events to external factors tend to be depressed.
  • Internal – Claiming that we are in control of our own lives. People who tend to attributed the causes of events to themselves tend to get stressed.

Offenders have a higher likelihood of having an external locus of control.

Attribution Theory:

Attribution Theory refers to how people work out the causes of their own and others behaviours.

Attributions can be either situational, for example, blaming the traffic for being late. Or they can be disposition, for example, blaming being lazy for being late.

This can lead to a fundamental attribution error:


To examine the relationship between type of offence and the attributions offenders make about their criminal acts.

To cross-validate earlier findings of an English sample.


Self-report using the Guðjónsson and Singh 42 item blame attribution inventory (GBAI) to measure the offenders attribution of blame, which was then compared with the type of crime the criminals committed.

The 80 participants were divided into 3 groups:

  1. (20 Subjects) had committed violent offences, including murder and grievous bodily harm. (Mean Age: 29)
  2. (40 Subjects) had committed sexual offences, including pedophiles and those who had committed sexual assault. (Pedophiles mean age: 41, but 28 for the others)
  3. (20 Subjects) had committed property offences including theft, and burglary (Mean age: 29).

80 Criminals, all serving sentences in a Northern Ireland prison.


As expected the criminals who had committed the sexual offences showed the most remorse for their crimes, followed by those who had committed violent offences.

Those who committed violent offences had the highest mental element scores on the GBAI, followed by the sex offenders.

Mental elements refers to blaming things like mood on behaviour.

When compared to English offenders, the Violent Irish prisoners showed lower mental elements and lower guilt.

Summary of key findings

Violent Offenders

Most mental elements

Most external attributions

Sex Offenders

Highest remorse

Lowest external attributions

Property Offenders

Lowest mental elements

Lowest remorse


Strong consistency with earlier findings, which suggested strong consistency with the way criminals attribute blame.


High replicability – due to a highly standardised procedure, with the use of the GBAI.

High concurrent validity – due to agreement between the earlier study of English prisoners.

Social desirability may have had an effect, especially with the sex offenders as they are seen as the lowest of the  low in the prison hierarchy.

High Construct Validity – due to agreement with attribution theory

Only generalisable to western prisoners, prisoners from other areas in the world may not be the same.

– No control group – as there was no control group we cannot see the establish with any degree of certainly if criminals really do have a different way of attribution of blame. For the results from this study to be useful in an forensic psychology or real life environment, we would need to have a control group.

Key Terms
  • Locus of Control
  • Attribution Theory
  • Social Cognition
  • Fundamental Attribution Error 
  • Mental Elements 
  • Construct Validity
Audio Podcast


Gudjonsson, Gisli H., and Ian Bownes. “The attribution of blame and type of crime committed: data for Northern Ireland.” The Journal of Forensic Psychiatry 2.3 (1991): 337-341.


Further Reading

OCR A2 Psychology Student Unit Guide: Unit G543: Forensic Psychology (Student Unit Guides)


Guðjónsson and Bownes (2002): The Attribution of Blame and Type of Crime Committed
Article Name
Guðjónsson and Bownes (2002): The Attribution of Blame and Type of Crime Committed
One of the key studies for OCR A2 Psychology. Guðjónsson and Bownes, (2002) - 'C' Background This study in the OCR A2 specification is categorised in 'Turning to Crime,' 'Cognition,'