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Chapter 1

PSYC39H3 Chapter Notes - Chapter 1: Anti-Social Behaviour, Travis Hirschi, Social Control Theory

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David Nussbaum

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Chapter 1: Introduction to Criminal Behaviour
Crime: legally defined as a conduct or failure to act in violation of the law forbidding or commanding
it, and for which a range of possible penalties exist upon conviction
Criminal behaviour: behaviour in violation of the criminal code
To be convicted of crime, a person must have acted intentionally and without justification or excuse
An intentional killing may be justified under certain circumstances, as in defence of one’s life
Strict liability offences: a very narrow range of offences that do not require criminal intent
i.e., murder or petty offences
Public officials, politicians, etc., continue to offer simple and incomplete solutions for obliterating
crime, but these are often effective in the short-term
Solutions that attack what are believed to be root causes of crime—such as reducing economic
inequality, improving educational opportunities, or offering substance abuse treatment—have
considerable merit, but they require public commitment, energy, and financial resources
Our inability to prevent crime is also partly because we have trouble understanding criminal behaviour
and identifying and agreeing upon its many causes
Our focus is the psychological perspective, although other viewpoints are also described
Theories of Crime
Psychologists have developed a scientific theory based on just-world ideas, and they have developed
scales to measure one’s just-world orientation
Just-world hypothesis: a belief that one gets what one deserves in this world
People identified as just-worlders on the basis of their scores on the scales have been shown to favour
capital punishment and to be non-supportive of many social programs intended to reduce economic
disparity between social groups
The most recent research on just-world theory has identified two tracks: belief in a general just-world
(described above), and belief in a personal just-world
Belief in a personal just-world (“I usually get what I deserve”) is considered adaptive and helpful in
coping with dire circumstances in one’s life
Prisoners with a high personal just-world orientation evaluated their prison experiences more
Belief in a general just-world, however, seems to be far more problematic because it is associated
with less compassion for others and even a derogation of victims of crime
Theory verification: a process whereby a scientific theory is tested through observation and analysis
If the process falsifies the theory, the theory must be revised to account for the observed events
If the theory is not verified—indeed, if any of its propositions is not verified—the end result is
Falsification: the process of testing a theory whereby if it is discovered that even one of its propositions
is found not to be supported, the theory cannot be valid
Basically, theories of criminal behaviour are summary statements of a collection of research findings
Each theory of crime has implications for policy or decisions made by society to prevent crime
Model: a graphic representation of a theory or a concept, designed to enhance its understanding
Models are relatively new, but theories have been around for centuries
Italian philosopher Cesare Beccaria argued that in order to reduce or stop criminal offending in any
given society, the punishment should be swift, certain, and severe enough to deter people from the
criminal (pleasure-seeking) act
If people realized in advance that severe punishment would be forthcoming, and coming soon,
regardless of their social status or privileges, they would choose not to engage in illegal behaviour
This theoretical thinking, emphasizing free will as the hallmark of human behaviour, has
become known as classical theory
Criminal Behaviour: A Psychological Approach 11th Edition Curt Bartol & Anne Bartol

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Classical theory: theory of human behaviour that emphasizes free will as a core concept
Both criminal and civil law are rooted in the belief that individuals are masters of their fate, the
possessors of free will and freedom of choice
Deterrence theory: the theory that argues that threat of punishment will prevent crime
Positivist theory: theory that argues prior experiences or influences (antecedents) determine present
From this view, free will cannot be the major explanation for our behaviour
In summary, the classical view of crime holds that the decision to violate the law is largely a result of
free will
The positivist or deterministic perspective argues that most criminal behaviour is a result of social,
psychological, and even biological influences
It does not deny the importance of free will, and it does not suggest that individuals should not
be held responsible for their actions
However, it maintains that these actions can be explained by more than “free will.”
This latter perspective, then, seeks to identify causes, predict and prevent criminal
behaviour, and rehabilitate (or habilitate) offenders
Theoretical Perspectives on Human Nature
Criminal Behaviour: A Psychological Approach 11th Edition Curt Bartol & Anne Bartol

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Strain theory: a prominent sociological explanation for crime based on Robert Merton’s theory that
crime and delinquency occur when there is a perceived discrepancy between the materialistic values
and goals cherished and held in high esteem by a society and the availability of the legitimate means for
reaching these goals
General Strain Theory (Agnew): “strains” are rather seen as events and conditions that are disliked by
The inability to achieve one’s goals was only one such condition; others were losing something of
value, or being treated negatively by others
Social control theory (Travis Hirschi): theory in criminology that proposes that individuals are
prevented from committing antisocial behaviour or crime because of bonds they hold to society, such as
their attachment to parents or significant others
Crime and delinquency occur when an individual’s ties to the conventional order or normative
standards are weak or largely non-existent
General theory of crime/self-control theory: based on the assumption that lack of self-control is the
core factor in criminal behaviour
More prominent nowadays
One controversial aspect of the theory is its contention that self-control is a stable trait that is fully
in place in childhood, usually by the age of eight and is not likely to change thereafter
Many researchers have tested this aspect of SCT and have found that self-control can develop at
later ages
Social learning theory: theory of human behaviour based on learning from watching others in the
social environment
This leads to an individual’s development of his or her own perceptions, thoughts, expectancies,
competencies, and values
Differential association theory: formulated by Edwin Sutherland, a theory of crime that states that
criminal behaviour is primarily due to obtaining values or messages from others, including but not
limited to those who engage in crime
The critical factors include with whom a person associates, how early, for how long, how
frequently, and how personally meaningful the associations are
It is not the result of emotional disturbance, mental illness, or innate qualities of “goodness” or
Developmental criminology cannot be placed firmly in any of the three categories, although it would
seem to be most at home in the learning perspective, so we place it there
Disciplinary Perspectives in Criminology
Criminology: the multidisciplinary study of crime
Three dominant disciplinary perspectives:
Sociological criminology: branch of criminology that examines the demographic, group, and societal
variables related to crime
Many sociologists today are divided into structuralist and culturalist groups
Structuralists are more likely to look at the underlying foundation of society, such as lack of
employment and educational activities or the quality of health services offered in a community
Criminal Behaviour: A Psychological Approach 11th Edition Curt Bartol & Anne Bartol
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