Self report study

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A self report study is a research method employed by sociologists and criminologists to determine the extent of crime and deviance.

Most self report studies involve confidential questionnaires that invite the respondents to record voluntarily whether or not they have committed any of the offences listed.The data can then be compared with official conviction rates to discover which types of offenders are most likely to be convicted.

Self report studies have revealed that criminal acts are spread throughout the population, and that the official difference between male and female, or working and middle class rates of criminality are far smaller than the official statistics would suggest.

In general, self-report studies identify more offenders than the official crime statistics and different types of offender. These research methods have thus brought into question many of the conventional explanations of crime which have been based on official police records.

Some problems of self report studies

  1. Unreliable answers
    • Respondents may exaggerate
    • Respondents may be embarrassed
    • Forgetfulness
  2. A biased selection of offences
    • May uncover trivial offences, but not serious, uncommon ones
    • Only a limited menu of offences are listed
    • May ignore middle class crime
  3. A biased selection of interviewees
    • Researchers may not be able to gain access to certain categories of offender. Many self-report studies have involved a 'captive audience' of school age students or prisoners.
    • Non respondents may distort data (e.g. truants in school)
    • On the other hand the rich and powerful, such as business executives, may exclude researchers looking at issues such as corporate crime and fraud.

Further reading

Moore, Stephen (1996) Investigating Deviance, Second Edition, Sociology in Action Series, Collins, pp 224-228

See also

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