Chapter 9: psychological perspective on criminality
PSYCHOLOGICAL THEORIES OF CRIME (1)
TYPICALLY INVOLVE THEORIES OF PERSONALITY OR LEARNING. MOST RESEARCH
HAS MADE ONE OF TWO VALUE ASSUMPTIONS:
1. Offender deficit there is something wrong with the offender. (Frizzle had something wrong with
2. Differentiating traits there are traits such as impulsivity and aggression that distinguish
between criminals and noncriminals. We can use different personality test to find these different
Critics of these theories: very little emphasis on the strengths of the offenders ( but this is changing
now), and ignore the potential environmental factor on individual behaviors ( this is also now being
included). Others argue that psychological factors which is focused on individual differences are
necessary related to the personality and are central importance to both the causation and control of
crime. We have to focus on the individual. Because the motivation to commit arises from one’s own
desire for material good and excitement. Thus we should look at what beliefs and values each
criminal has internalized. This individualistic perspective is very dominant. There is other perspective
as well like community psychology and also the situational approach, which states that we have to
look at the environmental stressors that cause this behavior.
Community psychology: analyzes social problem including crime as largely the product of
organizational and institutional characters of the society and it Is closely related to sociology. There
are four levels of analyses for this perspective.
1) Individual (what psychological problems do the individual have) 2) small group level (social
problems arise when there are problems in the group such as peer influence, drug abusing friend that
can influence the person) 3) organizational (organization in society like the police have not
accomplished what they are suppose to like stopping crime) 4) institutional or community level:
social problems are created by institutions i.e. the problem that individual faces is due to law created
by the society). Most of community psychologist focuses on organizational and institutional levels.
The psychoanalytic theory (by freud)
Freud did not develop a theory of crime, but his followers applied his theory to criminality .
To Freud, human nature is inherently antisocial(at birth we are biological being but it takes
process of learning to become social beings) and good behavior requires effective socialization
(What makes us humans is our ability to learn from others). The lifelong features of personality
are fixed in childhood (people that were loud are still loud. Our personality seems to remain
He argued that everyone goes through 5 developmental stages of life that include oral, anal,
phallic, latency and genital stages. He believes that personality of composed of three states.
1) The id (biological drives like food, drink, sex, it always wants something and stuff)
2) The ego (screens and controls the id. Ego means self your perception of who you are)
3) The superego (internalized values & norms = conscience.)
Examples’ I am gonna punch him (ID)à no it is not right (superego)à I guess I will not (Ego).
Thus based on this the role of ego/superego was to control the id. Id and the superego are
unconscious and psych are more concerned with these and only ego is conscious as it is self.
Like others, He was concerned with the unconscious elements of personality.
The ego and the superego develops through successful resolute of conflicts presented at each
stage of development ( both biological and social factors are involved in solving these issues)
Why does crime occur based on this theory? Chapter 9: psychological perspective on criminality
1. Crime occurs when the ego and superego are unable to control the aggressive, antisocial instincts
of the id. (id is were thought about crime start)
2. Criminal behavior is a form of neurosis (mental/emotional disorder).
3. The criminal seeks punishment to alleviate guilt over unconscious desires. (
4. Crime is a means of obtaining substitute gratification of needs and desires not obtained in family.
5. Crime is due to traumatic events which have been repressed (during war, fritizel’s mom
abandoned him and he was pissed off)
6. Crime may be an expression of displaced hostility (express what they are feeling etc.)
7. John Bowlby: stable attachment to a mother (figure) is essential to be able to show affection to
others (men need mother figure to show affection to others and in the video fritzel did not had
that). Family is essential for Socialization.
THE THEORY HAS MANY WEAKNESSES:
1. It is essentially untestable because it relies on unobservable underlying constructs such as id,
ego, and superego. These cannot be measured ( they are unconscious)
2. Also, it is circular in that aggressive acts are explained by aggressive impulses, but the only
evidence of the impulses are the aggressive acts. (it uses itself as its evidence)
MORAL DEVELOPMENT THEORIES (1)
Key to understanding criminality is the development or failure to develop a sense of morality and
responsibility (The more morally developed you are the less likely it is that you will engage in crime.
But why is it that some do other’s doing). This theory is based on child development theory of French
psychologist Jean Piaget in that Theory: Moral reasoning develops in three stages of moral
1) Preconventional level morals and values are “do’s and dont’s” and are associated with
punishment (up to age 11). Roles and social expectations are external to the self they are
egocentric (they don’t know why do/don’t. they have not internalized the rule and value. It is just
they said and he said etc.). young child is simply to avoid punishment. Thus it is best for child to
develop/solve problems so he can progress through.
2) Conventional level – the individual has internalized and identifies with the rules and
expendations (adolescent and adult can now say why they are/no allowed to do things. If we stay
at 2 stage, their will be no crime). You want to get along with others.
3) Post conventional level morality based on selfchosen principles (something uncommon).
These may be universal rights, duties, etc. (i.e. demonstration against something. They are taking
self chosen behavior/ideas etc. they put themselves on the line for issues that don’t concern them) Chapter 9: psychological perspective on criminality
Critics of moral development theory: Gilligan has criticized the theory, saying it does not apply to
females and is malecentered (androcentric=male centred). Compared boys’ and girls’ moral
Boys develop a justice perspective ( oh serve him right he stole). Formal rules define right and
Girls develop a care and responsibility perspective ( what could have made this person do this
crime). As a result of this, female rarely obtain the higher stages. The author of this theory says
that the only way for woman to go is through taking on men’s roles and leave traditional
responsibilities. Personal relationships define reasoning
Overall, Some studies have shown that higher levels of moral reasoning are associated with lower
levels of delinquency (criminal behavior), but correlations are relatively low. thus both situational
and individual are important determinant of behavior.
HANS EYSENCK’S THEORY (1)
Feels that crime is natural and easy to explain. The focus should be why many do not commit
crimes. . The theory is based on classical conditioning (Punishment creates a conditioned
avoidance (fear) of a disapproved act. For this to occurs, must look at frequency of pairing of
US and CS and precise content of the Conditioning program) .This conditioned fear is the
conscience. Note that extreme force is not needed).
Feels children refrain from crime because of fear of punishment
Criminals do not develop this conditioned respon se because they are biologically less
susceptible to conditioning or because they have had ineffective socialization.
There is a linkage between personality type(extrovertism, neurotism and psychotism) and
susceptibility to conditioning:
Extraverts are less susceptible to conditioning than introverts (because of their high need
for excitement. If also high on neurotic then most likely to be a criminal and delinquent)
High on Psychotic are the worst ones involved in more serious offences.
Evidence is contradictory, but theory does show how inherited psychological traits can be
interrelated with social factors to produce criminality ( you can be psychological prone but
through conditioning can become noncriminal)
Social learning theory:
Combines social factors with individual cognitive functions (the ability to think & choices
which is central to this theory). Focuses on individual behavior and takes into account the
environmental influences and social conditioning of an individual
The idea of “modeling” individuals can learn new beh