Biography

Rob is a DPhil Criminology student interested in whether one day criminal behaviour will be treated like a brain-based cancer, rather than punished like evil, and whether brain-based explanations of crime will convince the public to support such policy changes. He is running public opinion experiments at the National Theatre and Science Museum in London to test whether neuroscience might changes attitudes towards the purpose of punishment.

Rob has a background in psychology, having graduated on the BA Experimental Psychology at Oxford, receiving the Gibbs Prize for second best performance. He then completed the MSc Criminology and Criminal Justice (Research Methods), receiving the Routledge prize for the research methods Master’s. Hence he is keen to integrate the often separated fields of psychology and criminology.

If you are also interested in the divide between criminology and psychology or the effects of different explanations for crime on attitudes towards offending, please feel free to drop Rob an email - he is very keen to work on studies with anyone who has similar interests. 

Publications

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  • Robert Blakey, 'Communicating the Neuroscience of Psychopathy and Its Influence on Moral Behavior: Protocol of Two Experimental Studies' (2017) Frontiers in Psychology
    Neuroscience has identified brain structures and functions that correlate with psychopathic tendencies. Since psychopathic traits can be traced back to physical neural attributes, it has been argued that psychopaths are not truly responsible for their actions and therefore should not be blamed for their psychopathic behaviors. This experimental research aims to evaluate what effect communicating this theory of psychopathy has on the moral behavior of lay people. If psychopathy is blamed on the brain, people may feel less morally responsible for their own psychopathic tendencies and therefore may be more likely to display those tendencies. An online study will provide participants with false feedback about their psychopathic traits supposedly based on their digital footprint (i.e., Facebook likes), thus classifying them as having either above-average or below-average psychopathic traits and describing psychopathy in cognitive or neurobiological terms. This particular study will assess the extent to which lay people are influenced by feedback regarding their psychopathic traits, and how this might affect their moral behavior in online tasks. Public recognition of these potential negative consequences of neuroscience communication will also be assessed. A field study using the lost letter technique will be conducted to examine lay people’s endorsement of neurobiological, as compared to cognitive, explanations of criminal behavior. This field and online experimental research could inform the future communication of neuroscience to the public in a way that is sensitive to the potential negative consequences of communicating such science. In particular, this research may have implications for the future means by which neurobiological predictors of offending can be safely communicated to offenders.
  • Robert Blakey, 'Does Watching a Play about the Teenage Brain Affect Attitudes toward Young Offenders?' (2017) Frontiers in Psychology
    Neuroscience is increasingly used to infer the cognitive capacities of offenders from the activity and volume of different brain regions, with the resultant findings receiving great interest in the public eye. This field experiment tested the effects of public engagement in neuroscience on attitudes toward offenders. Brainstorm is a play about teenage brain development. Either before or after watching this play, 728 participants responded to four questions about the age of criminal responsibility, and the moral responsibility and dangerousness of a hypothetical young or adult offender. After watching the play, participants perceived the young offender as less likely to reoffend than the adult offender and the young, but not adult, offender as less morally responsible for his actions, especially on the first offense. Therefore, public engagement in the newest arrival to the criminological scene – neuroscience – may shift support for different youth justice responses.

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Research Interests

Neurocriminology, biosocial criminology, public perceptions of crime, lay justifications for punishment, mitigating and aggravating factors, legal decision making, courtroom biases, attribution theory, labelling theory, secondary deviance, neutralisations

Research projects