Effectiveness of Moral Developmental Interventions for Youth Engaged in Delinquent Behavior: A Meta-Analysis

Evelyn Heynen*, Larissa Hoogsteder, Eveline van Vugt, Frans Schalkwijk, Geert Jan Stams, Mark Assink

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


There is vast empirical evidence showing that juvenile delinquency is associated with delays in moral development, including moral judgment, empathy, and self-conscious emotions (guilt and shame). Consequently, interventions have been developed that target moral development of juvenile delinquents to reduce criminal offense recidivism. However, a comprehensive synthesis of studies examining the effectiveness of these interventions was not yet available. The present meta-analysis of (quasi-)experimental research therefore examined the effects of interventions that target moral development of youth engaged in delinquent behavior. Interventions that targeted moral judgment (11 studies and 17 effect sizes) showed a significant and small-to-medium effect on moral judgment (d = 0.39), with intervention type as a significant moderator, but no significant effect on recidivism (d = 0.03; 11 studies and 40 effect sizes). No (quasi-)experimental studies were found that targeted guilt and shame in juvenile offenders, and an insufficient number of studies (i.e., only two) were found to conduct a meta-analysis of interventions that target empathy. The discussion focuses on potential ways to improve moral development interventions for youth engaged in delinquent behavior, and provides suggestions for future research.

Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 22 May 2023


  • behavioral interventions
  • conscience
  • meta-analysis
  • moral development


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