Knife crime imagery and messaging – effective intervention tools or ineffective sensitisers?

This research explores the impact that images of knife crime has on the public and therefore the effectiveness of including such images in knife crime campaigns.

Key details

Lead institution
Principal researcher(s)
Dr Charlotte Coleman and Dr Kate Whitfield
Police region
North East
Collaboration and partnership

University of Sheffield

South Yorkshire VRU: Mike Parker

Thames Valley VRU: Owen Miller

Level of research
Professional/work based
Project start date
Date due for completion

Research context

The research aims to investigate the effects knife crime images have on perceptions of the prevalence of knife carrying, fears and attitudes about knives, and information recall about knife crime campaigns.

Further, this research will assess how knife imagery can impact upon perceptions of knife crime information that is often used alongside imagery.

This research is the first of its kind. The results will inform police forces and other organisations about the impact of including knife imagery in campaigns about knife crime.

The impact of the research will be wide-ranging, from considering imagery use in interventions and campaigns, through to media releases by local, national and international news media. The research will therefore be of importance to every organisation that engages with or reports about knife crime.

The research aims to examine the impact of using knife crime imagery and information in interventions, campaigns and media releases on the perceptions and attitudes of young people.

Three studies will be conducted, where the following hypotheses will be addressed.

Study one

There will be increased fear sensitisation and reduced information recall in response to pictures of real knives, compared to stylised or no knife images. Further, normalising messaging will produce more positive attitudinal shift than factual or policed messaging.

Study two

Young people not involved in knife crime will replicate the results expected in Study 1. However, fear sensitisation will be lower in young people involved in knife crime. Further, responses to policed messaging will be more positive from young people not involved in knife crime.

Study three

Study three has no direct hypotheses, but is aimed at providing more in-depth explanatory detail in terms of the issues being addressed by studies one and two.

Research methodology

A three-part study is proposed.

Part one

The participants will consist of approximately 200 to 300 Year 10 pupils (from South Yorkshire and Thames Valley), who will be recruited via schools.

They will be randomly presented with a picture of a real knife, a stylised knife, or no knife, in one of three messaging conditions:

  • factual (gives statistics for offending)
  • normalising (identifies knife crime as not normal behaviour)
  • policed (provides details of police activity to address knife crime)

Data will be collected via a questionnaire that covers the general perception of knife crime, perception of knife crime in their area, and attitudes towards knife crime. The data collected will be analysed using ANOVA for the experimental data and PCA to further develop the attitudinal measure.

Part two

The participants will consist of 20 young people involved in knife crime (recruited through the police forces) and 20 young people not involved in knife crime (recruited from schools as above).

The same stimuli involved in study one will be used. Data will be collected via eye-tracking technology and the questionnaire from study one. The data collected will be analysed using either a paper or online questionnaire (depending on the school’s preference).

Part three

The participants will consist of 10 young people involved in knife crime (recruited through the police forces) and 10 young people not involved in knife crime (recruited through schools).

Data will be collected via four focus groups that cover the participants' views of knife crime, knife crime images and messaging. The transcripts from the focus groups will be analysed using thematic analysis.

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