PSYC39 – Ch.3 Theories of Crime: learning and environment
Basic Psychodynamic Principles: the id, ego, and superego
- From a psychodynamic perspective, humans are thought to be inherently
antisocial, driven by pleasure-seeking and destructive impulses.
- Crime generally occurs when these, often unconscious, impulses are not
- “..homicide usually does not originate because of a clearly defined impulse
to kill, but is released by the intensity of internal conflicts’
- References to inner drives, traumatic situations, and protecting defences
are commonplace in psychodynamic explanations of crime.
- Problems that result in superego formation, which are generally thought
to stem from a failure to identify with prosocial parental figures, are of
particular interest to those attempting to develop explanations of crime.
- Psychoanalysts have proposed three main sources of criminal
behaviour related to the development of a harsh, weak or deviant
- Harsh superego = neurotic criminal
Harsh superego is assumed to lead to pathological levels of unconscious
guilt. Criminal behaviour is meant to subconsciously invite punishment in
an attempt to resolve this guilt.
- Weak superego = commonly associated with the psychopathic
possessing a superego that fails to sufficiently regulate the primitive and
instinctual needs of the id.
this type of individual is typically ‘egocentric, guiltless, and unempathic’
e.g. many violent offenders including serial killers.
- Deviant superego = Superego standards have developed, but those
standards are thought to reflect deviant identification (identification
with a deviant role model)
e.g. criminal parents have a good relationship with their son and the son
grows up to mirror his parents’ criminality
The child’s delinquent behaviour reflects an absence of guilt, but not the
abnormality of psychic structures.
Psychodynamic Theories of crime
- the general categories of criminal types – harsh, weak, deviant superegos
– are useful, but they fail to provide adequate information about the
actual causes of crime.
- Consistent finding that males are more likely than females to commit
crime does not fit well with th psychoanalytic assumption that girls are
less likely than boys to develop a strong superego
Bowlby’s Theory of Maternal Deprivation
- the theory draws heavily on the psychodynamic perspective and is a
popular theory for how juvenile delinquency develops
- Bowlby’s view was that young children require consistent and continuous
maternal care in order for them to develop normally (to resolve the many psychological conflicts encountered throughout the psychosexual
- According to Bowlby, disruption to the mother-child relationship will
have many harmful and potentially irreversible long-term effects,
especially in relation to the child’s ability to establish meaningful
prosocial relationships. = child will not develop the means to control his
conduct, e.g. destructive impulses, and will be more likely to exhibit
antisocial patterns of behaviour.
- Bowlby’s empirical data – there is a significantly higher level of maternal
deprivation in delinquent group compared to the non-delingquents.
- However his study was challenged for: unrepresentative nature of his
delinquent sample to poor control group matching
- Now: maternal deprivation is not a critical factor to a child’s healthy
development. Any damage caused by early deprivation is not necessarily
- The theory over-predicts juvenile delinquency given that many
individuals who experience maternal deprivation do not get involved in
Unraveling Juvenile Delinquency: The work of Glueck and Glueck
(family discord in general such as a lack of parental supervision, is associated
with delinquent behaviour)
- less formal theory of crime, but more a summary of their empirical
- The primary interests of the Gluecks were discovering the causes of crime
and assessing the effectiveness of correctional treatment in controlling
- Cross-sectional research comparing the lives of juvenile delinquents with
non-juveniles (500 delinquent boys from Massachusetts correctional
system and 500 non-delinquent boys from Boston public school),
longitudinal research was also included.
- They took a multidisciplinary approach to examine delinquency, e.g.
wealth info, social psychological and biological info, family lives, school
performances and work experiences
- The Gluecks attributed the differences between delinquents and non-
delinquents to parenting factors, the primary source for superego
- E.g. parents of the delinquents have a great incidence of emotional
disturbances, mental retardation, alcoholism, and criminality. They were
also less educated, less likely to stay together and less ambitious. Showed
greater carelessness in the supervision of their children and often
neglectful. Greater proportion of delinquent families was found to lack
cohesiveness, warmth and respect for the integrity of family members.
- The Gleucks stated that “the development of a mentally hygienic and
properly oriented superego (conscience) must have been greatly
hampered by the kind of parental ideals, attitudes, temperaments, and
behaviour found to play such a major role on the family stage of the
delinquents” - Being challenged for other methodological and ideological reasons.
e.g. not carefully examining issues related to causal ordering (factors they
highlighted preceded or were the result of delinquency), inappropriate
use of statistical techniques and procedures.
Ideological reasons: not emphasizing certain explanatory variables
deemed important in mainstream criminology, e.g. class of origin, and
placed too much emphasis on familial (parental supervision) and
biological (mesomorphy) factors.
Hirschi’s Control Theories (contain important psychodynamic themes)
- Original social control theory/social bond theory = the reason why
people don’t violate the law is because of social controls, or ‘the bond of
the individual to society’
- Four interrelated types of social bonds that are collectively thought to
promote socialization and conformity: attachment, commitment,
involvement, and belief.
- ‘Delinquent acts result when an individual’s bond to society is weak or
- Attachment = attachment and interest in others, e.g. parents, friends..
Represent ego-ideal (in psychodynamic terms)
One does not commit crime partly because one does not wish to
jeopardize these valued relationships.
- Commitment = time, energy and effort placed in conventional behaviour
People who have an investment in conventional pursuits run a
heightened risk of losing that investment if they become involved in
- Involvement = time and energy one spends taking part in activities that
are in line with the conventional interests of society
Heavy involvement in conventional activities limits the time that is
available to participate in criminal pursuits.
- Belief – one’s conviction to the view that people should obey common
If such beliefs are weak or totally absent, involvement in crime is assumed
to be more likely
(Parallels with the conscience part of the superego)
Hirshi believed that attachment’s presence or absence was important, not
whether the peers were involved in delinquent acts. In fact, interacting
with antisocial peers is now considered to be one of the strongest
predictors of criminal involvement
Causal ordering: delinquency may precede weak attachment to school
- Gottdredson and Hirschi’s General theory of crime = self-control is the
primary cause of crime.
- Low self-control in the presence of criminal opportunities is assumed