Karen Hennigan

Associate Professor (Research) of Psychology
Email hennigan@usc.edu Office SGM 1004 Office Phone (213) 740-4269
  • Summary Statement of Research Interests

    Over the last several years, my research has focused on supporting programs designed to prevent youth from joining violent groups in marginalized communities in Los Angeles and in several locations in Central America. The approaches I have developed allow the programs to identify which youth at are highest risk for joining such groups, and allow family-based programs to work intensively with a smaller number of clients to reduce risk of joining. This approach has proved successful in several locations in the USA and Central America. My most recent work is focused on what motivates youth and young adults to move toward involvement in violent or radical groups such as ISIS? This knowledge, supports programs designed to intervene early enough to deflect involvement? My current work is focused on the process of adapting what I have learned from continuing work reducing involvement in gangs and other violent groups in Los Angeles and Central America to the context of youth radicalization in Tunisia and of violent groups in the Eastern Caribbean. Without thoughtful early intervention, the social identity internalized by members of these groups, often supports and perpetuates participation in violence — consistent with the expectations of their group – but inconsistent with healthy family and community relations. My goal is to intervene early in the lives of vulnerable youth and young adults in ways that may successfully deter their involvement in radicalization leading to extremism. And once radicalized, a related goal is to focus on ways we may successfully intervene to engender and support desistance from radical and ultimately violent extremist behavior.

    Research Keywords

    Social Identity Theory,
    Prevention and Intervention with Gangs and Radical Groups.

    Detailed Statement of Research Interests

    1) The application of social identity theory and other social psychological and criminological theories to understanding youth association, affiliation, as well as disassociation with antisocial groups including street gangs, other violent, radical or extremist groups. 2) Document the long terms effects of misguided community level and juvenile justice responses to juvenile crime and association with antisocial and radical groups (that may “backfire”).
    3) The development of an assessment that can help identity youth most in need of gang and radicalization prevention services.
    4) Tests of models focused on desistance from criminal group activities including three paths primary paths:
    a)increase in social and emotional ties to family mediated thru horizontal and vertical interactions;
    b)self differentiation and focus on personal development;
    c)increase social and emotional ties to conventional (nonviolent) groups with conventional / prosocial norms.

    • As a paid consultant, (in collaboration with Chris Murray and others) I developed and implemented a survey of each County Juvenile Probation Department in California, developing information needed to assess each county’s progress toward evidence-based practices in juvenile probation. The data were presented over a series of meetings to the commissioners and were used to develop and document the policies set out in a new Blueprint for an Outcome-Oriented Juvenile Justice System for the State of California ( )
  • Book Chapters

    • Hennigan, K., Maxson, C. (2012). New Directions in Street Gang Prevention for Youth: The Los Angeles Experience. Post-Ghetto: Reimagining South Los Angeles pp. 23. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
    • Hennigan, K., Spanovic, M. (2012). Gang Dynamocs Through the Lens of Social Identity Theory. Youth Gangs in International Perspective pp. 127-149. New York: Springer.

    Journal Article

    • Hennigan, K. M. (2015). Targeting youth at risdk for gang involvement. Elsevier B.V.. Vol. 56 (56), pp. 86-96. PubMed Web Address
    • Hennigan, K., Maxson, C., Sloane, D., Kolnick, K., Vindel, F. (2014). Identifying high risk youth for secodary gang prevention. Journal of Crime and Justice. Http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/0735648x.2013.831208
    • Hennigan, K., Sloane, D. (2013). Improving Civil Gang Injunctions: How implmentation can affect gang dynamics, crime and violence. Criminology and Public Policy. Vol. 12 (1), pp. 7-41.
    • Maxson, C., Matsuda, K., Hennigan, K. (2011). Deterrability among gang amd nongang juvenile offenders: Are gang members more or less deterrable than other juvenile offenders?. Crime and Delinquency/ Sage Publications. Vol. 57 (4), pp. 516-543.
    • Maxson, C., Matsuda, K., Hennigan, K. (2011). Deterrability among gang and nongang juvenile offenders. Crime and Delinquency. Vol. 57 (4), pp. 516-543.
    • Vasquez, E., Lickel, B., Hennigan, K. (2009). Gangs, displaced, and group-based aggression. Aggressions and Violent Behavior / Elsevier. Vol. in press


    • Murray, C., Cohen, S., Hennigan, K., Kolnick, K. (2009). Juvenile Justice Operational Plan: Blueprint for an Outcome Oriented Juvenile Justice System.