Naming the Threat: Lay Prototypes of Organized Crime in Italy and the US

Giovanni Travaglino, Cristina d'Aniello, Maria Giuseppina Pacilli, Fabio I.M. Poppi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Organized crime represents a pervasive global threat while posing unique challenges to law enforcement and policymakers. Yet, research about public understanding of this phenomenon remains limited. This research, comprising three studies conducted in Italy (Ntot = 477) and the United States (Ntot = 474), fills this crucial gap by investigating the lay prototypes of organized crime and advancing scholarly debates surrounding public understanding of criminal phenomena. Studies 1a-b identified the shared features of organized crime. In Studies 2a-b, participants rated the features’ centrality. In Italy, centrality ratings were underlain by an 8-dimensional latent structure and predicted by exposure to news. In the US, centrality ratings were underlain by a 7-dimensional structure and predicted by exposure to TV and movies. Studies 3a-b further underscored the significance of the features by demonstrating their diagnostic value. Participants identified criminal entities described using central (versus peripheral) features as more representative of organized crime, and perceived them as more dangerous. Despite a tendency among US participants towards a more romanticized understanding, the studies revealed complex and multifaceted prototypes of organized crime across contexts. These findings have important implications for policy and communication strategies and serve as a catalyst for further research in this critical area.
Original languageEnglish
JournalPsychology, Crime and Law
Early online date1 Aug 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 1 Aug 2023


  • Organized Crime
  • prototype approach
  • meaning
  • lay perceptions

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