Three Months of Imprisonment can Lead to Less Self Control.

Sam Wilson

There are many complaints about the current US prison system, and many different groups have different ideas on how to reform it. While some of these complaints against the prison system may not be factually based, advocates for prison reform have just received some ammunition for their cause in the form of a study conducted by Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. The study suggests that as little as three months of imprisonment can lead to reduced self control and attention. The author of the study, Jesse Meijers, tested inmates at the time of incarceration and compared this to the same tests taken three months after imprisonment. The tests showed “significant deterioration” in self control and attention span, which are import to reintegration into society.


Meijers got the idea for the study from one previously conducted on degeneration of elderly individuals based on their living conditions. “The professor of my department, Erik Scherder (Head of the Section Clinical Neuropsychology, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam), studied the influence of impoverished vs. enriched environments on elderly people with a neurodegenerative disease such as Alzheimer’s,” Meijers said “We wondered whether a prison environment, which is inherently impoverished, may have the same effects on prisoners.”


Prisoners are at an inherent disadvantage due to this lost self control “Besides being offenders, prisoners are often vulnerable in the sense that they have psychiatric and cognitive disorders, and reduced executive functioning,” Meijers explained to PsyPost. “They are less able than the average individual to be self-supporting, have a legitimate life with housing and income, and maintain relationships.” Meijers believes that some reform may be necessary and that “If we want to reduce the chances of re-offending, we should think about how we can improve self-control.”


The study, although well done, is not without limitations. The sample size is relatively small, and the study was done in only one country, where prisons may work differently. Even with its limitations, the study says something about prison systems and that they may have adverse effects. “I hope that this study broadens and stimulates the discussion on whether we, as a society, are being effective with imprisonment,”  Meijers said “I also hope that eventually we will aim to improve self-control and executive functions during imprisonment.”