Criminal Psychology

Another possible cause is outlined by Bandura (1977) and the Social Learning theory is associated with Skinners findings but extends the basic operant principles and like Sutherlands Differential Association Theory considers that people learn through the actions of others rather than there being an inner drive; occurring through both reinforcement and modelling which involves learning through observation.

Like Skinner, behaviour is reinforced, Bandura suggested there were three motivations: external reinforcement, vicarious reinforcement which is the most important being the observation of other peoples behaviour being rewarded or punished and lastly self reinforcement where there is a sense of pride and an increase of self-esteem. Which motivates the juvenile to imitate and repeat it in the future this suggests that juveniles who are exposed to criminal behaviour both through parental influences or even violent films at an early age would imitate it and repeat it in the future.

One criticism of this is that for it to be solely on the environment and social observation it is weak, which is where the ‘ nature-nurture’ debate is emphasised, Walmseley et al. (1992) suggests that genetics play an important part, he found that 1/3 of UK prisoners also had a family member in prison, which shows genetics and social environments are both important and the behaviourist psychologists don’t consider, however much progress has been made in child behaviour from these findings.

This leads to Social-Cognitive theories, which refers to the way people are thinking, Glueck and Glueck (1950) found that impulsive and concrete are typical styles of thinking for young offenders. Impulsive is the failure to learn; other characteristics include failure of effective thinking and lack of reflection. Which explains why young offenders have no remorse for there offences and can progress to become a criminal.

Supporting this is Rotenberg and Nachshon (1979) where they found offenders to be more impulsive than non-offenders. However, other researchers have found there to be no significant difference, so one should consider that different researchers adapt to different definitions and measures in there experiments, explaining why we see different outcomes. When considering this theory it is very important to appreciate this imbalance.

Juveniles are said to have other problems such as problem solving, and low moral reasoning. Freedman et al (1978) stated “young offenders show less competent responses to social problems than non-offenders” which suggests that it could be due to social interactions, age, family and upbringing and so could be related to their childhood, as the behaviourist approach also enhances. The structure of the family and home environments according to Shumaker (1994) are very important in the development of the child.

The psychoanalyst approach supports this as; Bowlby theory of attachments supports this and the concept that every child in development goes through a ‘critical’ period, which he stated was 2 1/2 years old. Deprivation of these attachments means they don’t have the security of a safe environment and the emotional support, which a child elicits from at an early age which seems to suggest that children who don’t have an attachment or are adopted or fostered lack the support, and become delinquents and later criminals.

Bowlby’s study of forty-four thieves in 1946 studied 44 delinquents and showed they were ‘affectionless psychopaths’ by finding out about their past and background – 86% had been recorded as being put into care before age of 5. This suggests that bond disruptions or lack of an attachment can cause or contribute to delinquent behaviour as Glueck suggested ‘lack of love and child rearing’. The strengths of this approach are that Bowlby compared the 44 thieves to a control group of 44 children who were not recorded as delinquents you get a direct comparison and the findings are more viable.

Another strength is that it has support from other researchers including Cuirran and Renzetti’s theory of social control (1944) – where if children are unattached to elements of their environment they are more likely to become juvenile delinquents. Possible ways of dealing with this could be to improve parent rearing techniques and working with families to improve quality of life, which would help in the early stages of development by encouraging appropriate behaviour.

This could be through social workers interacting more with day to day life with delinquents for example by helping to develop guidelines which have to be followed, which will be within the social norms of society, and encourage behaviour which is seen as acceptable. Schooling and learning should be more controlled and fun for children, it would encourage them to go to school regularly and learn, consequently learning moral values and increasing their own intelligence, as low IQ’s is associated with delinquency according to Hollin.

Freud, who said that criminals “have manifesting disturbances of the ego”, forwards other psychoanalytical theories. Which implies there be an imbalance between the ID-EGO-SUPEREGO, the ego being overdeveloped which resulted in repressed criminal instincts, which we all have at the first stage of development breaking through. This supports why some children become delinquents and some don’t as some have this imbalance. Freud’s theories are seen as outdated and old fashioned, as he never studied criminals.

There are a multitude of factors that cause some children to develop into criminals; the three theories I have outlined are a select few. They all appear to suggest that influences from other people play a bit part in a child’s life either through upbringing or just simple observation. Which shows that in order to effectively deal with the issues, social workers and other support groups need to focus more on helping family bonds and structure in stabilising a child’s life and deter them from any potential criminality.


Buskist, W. Carlson, N. Martin, N,(2000) Psychology the Science of Behaviour.Pearsoned Educatiojn Ltd.

Hollin,C.(1990).Cognitive-behavioural interventions with young offenders.Pergamon Press.

Homeoffice research and statistics., (accessed 2nd November2003)

Howitt,D.(2002).Forensic and Criminal Psychology. Pearson Education.

Hughes,G. C.McGlaughin, E. Muncil,J(ed),(2003).Criminological Perspectives.Sage Publications.

Another set of theories that attempt to explain crime is learning theory, which is based upon behavioural psychology. Behaviourists believe external forces not internal determine crime. Differential association theory was created by Sutherland (1939) and suggests that criminal behaviour is …

There are many theories in the biological approach that explain crime. Lombroso suggests that criminals are a separate species between modern and primitive humans who had different physical defects which determined them a criminal such as a prominent jaw or …

Attachment describes a strong, emotional bond that endures over time between an infant and their caregiver. It is an important bond that results in desire to stay strong physically. One of the theories how attachment works and forms is called …

Psychologists are useful in aiding the hostage negotiator of a prison in situations where one offender takes either another offender or a member of staff hostage because they are able to objectively act as an advisor supporting the process of …

David from Healtheappointments:

Hi there, would you like to get such a paper? How about receiving a customized one? Check it out