The Path Less Traveled: Path Analysis and the Psychology of Gang Members


This case study tells the story behind the article, “Social dominance orientation and trust propensity in street gangs,” published in 2014 in Group Processes & Intergroup Relations. The primary methodological focus is path analysis, an extension of multiple regression that estimates the magnitude and significance of hypothesized causal connections between variables. In this study, these variables are age, rank, and time spent in a gang, which, in turn, predict levels of social dominance orientation (a preference for inequality among social groups) and trust propensity (a dispositional willingness to rely on others) among street gang members. Social dominance orientation and trust propensity are employed as proxy measures of “defiant individualism,” Martin Sánchez-Jankowski’s trait theory of gang membership. This case study explains why and how. It explores the genesis of an idea, the process of hypothesis testing, the practicalities of surveying a population of active street gang members and, perhaps most importantly, how to temper expectations and work within data limitations. This case study looks at the reality of research in the real world. It also provides a discussion of the practical aspects of path analysis. It walks the reader through a path diagram and how to interpret causality or direct predictability between variables. This case study concludes with lessons learned.

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