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Keywords:

  • street gangs;
  • gang involvement;
  • psychology;
  • crime;
  • delinquency

Abstract

Research has noted the existence of a loose and dynamic gang structure. However, the psychological processes that underpin gang membership have only begun to be addressed. This study examined gang members, peripheral youth, and nongang youth across measures of criminal activity, the importance they attach to status, their levels of moral disengagement, their perceptions of out-group threat, and their attitudes toward authority. Of the 798 high school students who participated in this study, 59 were identified as gang members, 75 as peripheral youth, and 664 as nongang youth. Gang members and peripheral youth were more delinquent than nongang youth overall; however, gang members committed more minor offenses than nongang youth and peripheral youth committed more violent offenses than nongang youth. Gang members were more anti-authority than nongang youth, and both gang and peripheral youth valued social status more than nongang youth. Gang members were also more likely to blame their victims for their actions and use euphemisms to sanitize their behavior than nongang youth, whereas peripheral youth were more likely than nongang youth to displace responsibility onto their superiors. These findings are discussed as they highlight the importance of examining individual differences in the cognitive processes that relate to gang involvement. Aggr. Behav. 36:423–436, 2010. © 2010 Wiley-Liss, Inc.