Hyperfocus and offending behaviour: a systematic review

Worthington, Rachel Elizabeth and Wheeler, Suzanne (2023) Hyperfocus and offending behaviour: a systematic review. The Journal of Forensic Practice . ISSN 2050-8794

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Official URL: https://doi.org/10.1108/JFP-01-2022-0005


Hyperfocus (HF) is characterised by an intense state of concentration/focus. The purpose of this study is to explore in what ways HF has been found to contribute towards offending behaviour and what treatments have been found to be efficacious to reduce offending behaviour where HF was a contributing factor.

The systematic review was performed according to the recommendations of the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses. Papers were screened for quality appraisal and risk of bias. The initial search yielded 9,446 articles. Fifty-seven papers were deemed as meeting the inclusion criteria.

HF was noted to act as a vulnerability factor for aggression, sexual offending, radicalisation and stalking. HF was also observed in clients with psychopathy, autism, mental illness and those without a diagnosis. Thus, HF was not found to be offence or diagnosis specific. Furthermore, HF was found across males and females and adults and adolescents. The results identified themes in relation to the mechanisms by which HF may contribute to offending and suggested interventions for HF and offending.

Practical implications
Practitioners working with clients with HF currently lack evidence on the extent to which this contributes towards offending and recidivism and how HF could be addressed in interventions. Future research is needed to establish the role of HF in offending behaviour. Ideally, this should involve longitudinal data collection, retrospective analysis of data and sophisticated statistical analysis. This should also include exploration of the ways in which HF may be interconnected with offence risks/need factors which contribute towards offending. Research could inform the development of formal measurement tools for HF which are validated with norms for adult and adolescent offender samples. Practitioners should use case formulation to explore if HF represents a treatment need for clients they are working with.

This review noted that although HF has been postulated as being an important contributing factor to offending behaviour, few studies have tested this directly. From the limited studies available, HF was found to be relevant across different types of offences. HF was noted to contribute to offending due to neuropsychological mechanisms linked to executive functioning deficits and positive rewards associated with offending behaviour. Reasons for the lack of HF research are noted and recommendations for future research are discussed.

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