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FORENSIC PSYCHOLOGY LECTURE 2. Psychology of Criminal Behaviour . Recommended Reading. Howitt, Dennis. (2009), Introduction to Forensic and Criminal Psychology: 3rd Edition . London: Pearson Prentice Hall – Chapter 5.

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forensic psychology lecture 2


Psychology of Criminal Behaviour

Forensic Psychology

recommended reading
Recommended Reading
  • Howitt, Dennis.(2009),Introduction to Forensic and Criminal Psychology: 3rd Edition. London: Pearson Prentice Hall – Chapter 5.
  • Hollin, C.R. (1989), Psychology and Crime: An Introduction to Criminological Psychology. London: Falmer Press.
  • Hollin, C.R. (1992), Criminal Behaviour: A Psychological Approach to Explanation and Prevention. London: Falmer Press.
  • Millon, Theodore; Simonsen, Erik; Birket‑Smith, Morten; and Davis, Roger D. (1998), Psychopathy: Antisocial, Criminal and Violent Behaviour. New York: Guilford – Chapter 3, Chapter 8.

Forensic Psychology

aims of lecture
Aims of Lecture
  • Examine the root causes of crime.
  • Describe the biological perspectives on criminal behaviour.
  • Describe the sociological theories on criminal behaviour.
  • Evaluate psychological perspectives on crime.

Forensic Psychology

theories of crime
Theories of Crime
  • Societal or macro-level theories study crime at a broad level of analysis and suggest that crime is purely as a result of social structure.
  • Community or locality theories study crime form a geographical perspective. Suggests that crime or criminality is not randomly distributed – geographical profiling.
  • Group and Socialisation Influence Theories focus on criminal behaviour and concentrate on the influence of the group (family, sociological perspective of group thinking.
  • Individual approaches study crime at an individual level. Individual characteristics are linked to biological and social influences.

Forensic Psychology

psychoanlytic theory
Psychoanlytic Theory
  • Instinctual theories hold with the idea that aggression is an innate, instinctual behaviour, (“Lord of the Flies”).
  • Freud’s psychoanalytic approach (1930’s) suggests that aggression is an underlying urge that must be expressed. He sees aggression as innate and inevitable, even to the point of the tendency towards death or the “death instinct” (Thanatos). Freud argues that it is important for the individual to direct this energy outwardly. Both Freudian and ethological viewpoints emphasize the importance of “catharsis”, where the aggressive drive must find an outlet in actual aggressive behaviour or in some symbolic substitute.
  • Bowlby: (1944-1980) Emotional bond between child and mother
  • “44 juvenile thieves” study – 14 of the 44 “affectionless characters”

Forensic Psychology

explaining crime biological theories
Explaining Crime - Biological Theories
  • Biological Theories explain criminal behaviour in terms of genetic forces rather than free will – proposal that behaviour is determined by genes.
  • Historical explanation proposed by Lombroso – 19th century Italian physician - Lombroso discussed “criminal types” – identified by physical characteristics such as excessive hair, long ear lobes, large jaw and slanting forehead – throwbacks to an earlier more primitive form of man – later incorporated psychological and environmental variables in his research. Modern theory moves away from the “criminal gene”.
  • Twin Studies
  • Adoption Studies

Forensic Psychology

sheldon s constitutional theory
Sheldon’s Constitutional Theory
  • Sheldon’s Constitutional Theory (1942) – body build and personality 3 different body types (somatypes)
  • Mesomorphs, (muscular) – adventurous, aggressive – mainly the criminals.
  • Ectomorph (thin and bony) – restrained, introverted.
  • Endomorph (large and heavy – sociable and outgoing
  • (Biology and Psychology)

Forensic Psychology

twin studies
Twin Studies
  • Monozygotic (MZ) – identical – same genetic constitution
  • Dizygotic (DZ) – share about 50 % of genetic constitution.
  • If twins are in same environment – assumed differences must be due to genetic variation. Concordance – the degree to which related pairs of subjects within a study population display the same behaviour.
  • Number of Studies have shown higher concordance in MZ twins (See Table overleaf)
  • The study of criminal behaviour in twins reared apart is limited.
  • Twins may be treated differently.

Forensic Psychology


Study of Criminal Behaviour



Number of Pairs

% Concordant

Number of Pairs

% Concordant

Lange (1929)





Rosanoff (1934)





Yoshimosu (1965)





Christianson (1977)





Twin Studies

Forensic Psychology

adoption studies
Adoption Studies
  • Approach involves tracing children who have been given up for adoption, and comparing their criminal records with that of the biological and adoptive parents.
  • Mednick, Gabrielli & Hutchings Study (1983- 1984)
  • 4,000 male adoptees – enough information on parents to assess potential contribution of criminality.
  • Compared the criminal behaviour of the children with that of their biological and adopted parents.
  • Criminal behaviour of biological parents had stronger influence than that of the adoptive parents (property offences – not violent crime)

Forensic Psychology


Adoptive Parents

Biological Parents













Male Adoptees With Criminal Records According to Criminality of Parents

Forensic Psychology

biology and crime
Biology and Crime
  • Neurological theories Hillbrand et al (1998) – higher levels of enzyme serem creatine kinase
  • Raine (1994) – Murderers had significant lower glucose metabolism in both lateral and medial prefrontal cortex areas – says that deficits were localized in the frontal cortex may be related to violence.
  • Millar (1999) physiological characteristics may be a s result of institutionalization rather than cause of criminality
  • All demonstrate that genetic factors do have a role to play in the explanation of crime.

Forensic Psychology

explaining crime sociological theories
Explaining Crime – Sociological Theories
  • Mountjoy Prison Study – “Typical” Irish Criminal?
  • Durkeim suggests that a certain amount of crime and non-conformity is needed in a society to help reinforce social values – a small number of criminals reinforce other’s values - if society was all conforming, it might stagnate.
  • Merton’s “Strain Theory” – (1969) – suggests working class people are more prone to commit crimes – ultimate goal is to gain material success and criminals conform to the core values of the culture (or lower class social groups). The only way they are different is the methods they use. Why the working class? – because they have fewer chances of achieving material success than those that are better off.

Forensic Psychology

explaining crime sociological theories14
Explaining Crime – Sociological Theories
  • Marxists study crime in relation to the inequality of power – the basic idea is that the law exists to protect the ruling class and keep the working class under control – I.e. the haves and the have nots.
  • Beckers (1963) – “Labeling Theory” – deviant behaviour is behaviour that people so label. The people that hold power label the “criminal” – may become a self-fulfilling prophesy I.e.mental illness, terrorists. Stigma/Martyr.
  • Bowlby - explains deviance in terms of a child’s socialisation process – maternal deprivation might result in a criminal or psychopathic nature in later life.
  • Lykken – “The Case for Parental Licensure” – Chapter 8, Millon et al.

Forensic Psychology

personality and criminal behaviour
Personality and Criminal Behaviour


  • Theory incorporates biological, sociological and psychological factors.
  • Proposes three personality dimensions of extraversion, neuroticism and psychoticism.
  • Eysenck’s theory of personality and crime examines the causal problem.
  • Conscience is a conditioned response acquired through Pavolovian principles. We are punished or rewarded by our parents, teachers, and peers for our social behaviour (conditioning experience) in our conscience.– we behave well because our consciences would trouble us if we didn’t.

Forensic Psychology

personality and criminal behaviour16
Personality and Criminal Behaviour
  • Eysenck & Eysenck (1985) – 3 major dimensions of personality - Continuum
  • P – Psychoticism – ( Aggressive, cold, impulsive, etc.)
  • E – Extraversion – (Sociable, assertive, carefree, etc.)
  • N – Neuroticism – (Anxious, depressed, irrational)
  • Different combinations of personality scores are linked to criminal behaviour at different periods during life, but high psychoticism levels distinguishes between criminal and non criminals.

Forensic Psychology

eysenck personality and crime
Eysenck – Personality and Crime
  • Missing Conditioning Experiences
  • Wrong Experiences are Reinforced
  • Poor Conditionability - Raine (1993) – Anti-social people and criminals show poor conditionability (speed at which they form Conditioned Responses)
  • Cortical and Autonomic Nervous System we are born with affects our ability to learn from or condition to the environment.
  • Cortical arousal – low arousal makes conditioning less likely to occur
  • P – Poor/Low arousal – Always involved
  • E – Poor/Low arousal – Younger samples – seeking stimulation
  • N – Normal arousal – Older samples - – emotion and anxiety

Forensic Psychology

other factors
Other Factors
  • Alcohol
  • Drugs
  • Anti Social Personality Disorder
  • Psychopathy
  • Cognitive Theories
  • Addiction to Crime
  • Poverty
  • Unemployment
  • Criminal Justice System
  • Policing
  • Legislation
  • Societal responses
  • Sentencing Policies
  • Etc……………………………………………………………………………..

Forensic Psychology