Evaluating the role of hot and cold executive functioning, traumatic brain injury, and substance abuse in a criminal justice sample
The role that executive functioning (EF) deficits play in incarceration rates in the United States has rarely been researched. This construct consists of hot EF, which includes affective and reward-based decision making, and cold EF, which are purely cognitive processes including inhibition, working memory, and cognitive flexibility. This study aimed to examine hot and cold EF in a criminal justice sample, including subsamples such as violent offenders. Additionally, given that traumatic brain injury (TBI) and substance abuse are highly prevalent within criminal justice populations, additional aims included assessing the relationships between executive functioning, TBI, and substance abuse severity. A community sample of 422 individuals (135 who endorsed a criminal justice history) completed an online assessment composed of interactive measures to assess EF, as well as completing self-report measures on other relevant factors including demographics, intelligence, psychiatric symptoms, TBI, psychopathic traits, and substance use. Partial support was found for an association between criminal justice involvement and deficits in the cold EF components of inhibition and cognitive flexibility, although these were not found to be significant at the multivariate level. Instead, history of TBI, substance abuse, and psychopathic traits were found to be the greatest predictors of criminal justice involvement. Hot EF was not associated with criminal justice involvement. No differences were found in EF between violent and nonviolent offenders. More severe alcohol/substance use was associated with EF deficits, and poorer inhibition and working memory remained significant predictors even in the context of other relevant factors. Discussion of implications, limitations to the study, and future research directions were also included.