Walters Eight Cognitive Thinking Patterns model supersedes Samenow and Yochelson’s Criminal Personality Theory but still stigmatizes all criminal behavior resulting from as irrational (at best.)

Walters’ Eight Cognitive Thinking Patterns model supersedes Samenow and Yochelson’s Criminal Personality Theory but still cannot conceptualize socialization to behavior that is locally adaptive given a violence-prone, highly dysfunctional social environment


Mandracchia, Morgan’s 2007 paper “Inmate Thinking Patterns: An Empirical Investigation” details the history and interrelationship of Walter’s eight cognitive patterns model, based on his research using his PICTS assessment instrument, and Samenow and Yochelson’s Criminal Personality Theory and its 52 Criminal Thinking Errors. Unless otherwise noted, all citations below are from this paper.

Walters (1996) developed eight cognitive patterns to describe the criminal thinking process that both builds on and is intended to supplant Samenow and Yochelson’s model and its 52 criminal thinking errors. Walters’ eight thinking styles are:

  • (a) mollification: rationalizing behavior by placing blame on external factors,
  • (b) cutoff: quickly disregarding thoughts that deter from crime,
  • (c) entitlement: permitting criminal behavior by a special privileged self-attribution,
  • (d) power orientation: the need for utmost control over the environment and others,
  • (e) sentimentality: doing something good to offset one’s negative feelings about one’s behavior,
  • (f) “superoptimism”: confidence in one’s ability to evade the typical negative outcome of crime,
  • (g) cognitive indolence: using mental “short cuts” instead of using more developed and thoughtful mental strategies, and
  • (h) discontinuity: lack of perseverance and reliability in both behavior and thinking (Mandracchia et al.,  1030-1031)

Three of the Walters’ eight cognitive patterns are his own. (“Mollification, entitlement, and cognitive indolence were formed on the basis of Walters’ clinical experience (Walters, 1990, 2001).” The other five are derived from what Walters deemed to be the most salient of Samenow’s fifty-two thinking errors, specifically:  “Sentimentality and superoptimism were adopted directly from Yochelson and Samenow’s theory; power orientation consisted of a combination of Yochelson and Samenow’s conceptualization of the thinking patterns “zero state” and “power thrust”; whereas cutoff and discontinuity were generalized versions of Yochelson and Samenow’s descriptions of the thinking patterns “cutoff” and “fragmentation thinking errors,” respectively (Walters, 1990, 2001).”  (Mandracchia et al.,  1031)

Walter’s model and his Psychological Inventory of Criminal Thinking Styles (PICTS)

“To investigate these cognitive patterns empirically, Walters (2001) developed the Psychological Inventory of Criminal Thinking Styles (PICTS). In the first published study of the PICTS, sufficient reliability and early validity was demonstrated to support continued investigation and development of the instrument (Walters, 1995).”  (Mandracchia et al.,  1031).  

Walters still characterizes as all criminal behavior as only “self-indulgent” and “irrational”

Walters’ model still cannot conceptualize the possibility posited by Elijah Anderson’s Code of the Street, that some criminal behavior of offenders from high crime, violence-prone distressed urban communities is the product of both explicit and unconscious socialization and is locally adaptive and survival-promoting in its specific highly dysfunctional social context.  

As per Mandracchia et al.:  “These patterns represent the notion that criminal thought enables decisions that are self-indulgent, rash, interpersonally invasive, and contrary to societal standards. As such, these thinking patterns are irrationally based, unorganized, and subjective and serve the desires for immediate gratification.” [1030] 

All of this may be descriptive of some of the thinking and resulting behavior of many if not most juvenile offenders. But as a description of the thinking patterns and behavior of every criminal act by every juvenile offender from distressed urban communities–and in particular, those behaviors explicitly taught and modeled as per The Code of the Street, these characterizations are obviously incorrect.  Certainly the “old rule” described by Ta-Nehisi Coates that “we all take our beating together” and which requires every kid seeing any kid from his neighborhood being assaulted to join the fight in defense of his friend–and so commit criminal assault–is neither irrational, unorganized or subjective. (Which, again doesn’t make it moral, or exempt it from criminal sanction, or even in the true longer term best interest of the kid in question.)

The ways the Code of the Street predisposes to criminality are not mutually exclusive with factors from other criminogenic models as explanations for criminal behavior.

Of course, it is entirely possible and even likely that socialization to a Code of the Street that is adaptive behavior in a highly dysfunctional local context and which justifies and even requires criminal behavior is anything but mutually exclusive with other factors highlighted in the more conventional criminological models as predisposing to criminality.  Certainly, Walters’ cognitive pattern of “power orientation” would be a likely outcome or concomitant factor to a code-required physical response to disrespectful treatment. Living out the Code of the Street on a daily basis may have the effect of causing or requiring the cognitive immaturity and/or egocentrism that are two of the three factors posited by Mandracchia et al.

Walters’ critique of Samenow and Yochelson:

“Walters criticized Yochelson and Samenow’s conceptualization of criminal thinking errors, identifying; a) insufficient operationalization, b) difficulty of empirical evaluation, c) lack of generalizability and applicability, and, d) lack of recognition of environmental influences on erroneous thinking as specific weaknesses of their theory.”  (enumeration mine:  Mandracchia et al.,  1030).  Mere listing of these concerns–most or all of which have been identified in previous scathing assessments of Samenow and Yochelson’s work–does not adequately convey the degree to which this is a devastating critique.

What Walters concedes to be significant of Samenow and Yochelson’s work and which he incorporates into his own model

 In spite of these criticisms, Walters (1990) based his conceptualization of criminal thinking on what he deemed as Yochelson and Samenow’s major contributions to a cohesive theory of the criminal lifestyle. These contributions included the ideas that (a) criminals’ antisocial behaviors were based on free choice, (b) continued criminal thinking is the primary expression of free choice, and (c) developing a sense of responsibility for one’s own behavior was necessary to enable change.  (Mandracchia et al.,  1031)

Critique and consensus re: questions about the statistical validity of Walters model:

After what appeared to be very strong validation of Walter’s eight factor model by his own early research, the validity of an eight factor model has been called into question, in part by some of Walter’s own research.   Current thinking is leaning towards either a two factor, (proactive and reactive) (Disabato, 2015) or three factor, (Control, Cognitive Immaturity, and Egocentrism) model. (Mandracchia et al.)

Disabato, D. J., Folk, J. B., Wilson, J., Barboza, S., Daylor, J., & Tangney, J. (2015). Psychometric validation of a simplified form of the PICTS for low-reading level populations. Journal of psychopathology and behavioral assessment38(3), 456-464.

Mandracchia, J. T., Morgan, R. D., Garos, S., & Travis Garland, J. (2007). Inmate Thinking Patterns: An Empirical Investigation. Criminal Justice and Behavior34(8), 1029–1043. https://doi.org/10.1177/0093854807301788

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