“Everyone in here is innocent” says Morgan Freeman’s character Red, a convicted murderer, in The Shawshank Redemption.
This is not just the stuff of fiction. In fact, research from the University of Southampton shows that prisoners rate themselves as equally law-abiding as non-prisoners. Not only that, prisoners believe they possess more pro-social characteristics – kindness, morality, self-control, and generosity – than non-prisoners.
What these prisoners are doing, according to the study, is ignoring reality, or “stretching reality to the breaking point.”
According to Constantine Sedikides, Professor of Social and Personality Psychology and Director of the Centre for Research on Self and Identity at the University of Southampton, “prisoners are strongly influenced by the self-enhancement motive (i.e., the desire to see themselves in positive light)…It is very important for people to consider themselves good, valued, and esteemed no matter what objective circumstances might be. For anyone who doubts this, ask them if they think that their children are perfectly average.”