Psychology - Criminal Behaviour

  • Created by: EmilyT432
  • Created on: 19-03-17 17:14

Key Concepts

Defining Crime = Time and culture have an impact - what used to be illegal may not be anymore, and what’s illegal in another country may not be here (e.g. homosexuality, abortion and euthanasia)

Measuring Crime = Rely on recording and reporting, but sometimes people don’t realise they've been a victim of crime, and victims may not want to report the crime for a variety of reasons.

Criminal Personality = A collection of traits that make a person different from 'normal' law-abiding people. (e.g. impulsiveness, lack of feeling guilt, self-importance, pleasure seeking and being over optimistic)

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Core Theory - Biological Theory

The biological theory of criminal behaviour suggests that criminal behaviour is influenced by genetics. According to this theory, criminal behaviour runs in families because these genes are passed on to the next generation.
As a result, many criminals have similar facial features. This include asymmetrical faces, high cheekbones, prominent chin, crooked, flat or upturned nose and lots of hair.
Sometimes these genes also cause brain dysfunction in individuals, which causes their criminal behaviour. 
In criminals, the prefrontal cortex is often underactive. This is the area of the brain conditioned to form links between fear and anti-social behaviour. Without this, they won’t be afraid of the potential consequences of their actions resulting in a lack of impulse control.
The limbic system controls the aggressive and sexual behaviour, in criminals there may be an increase of activity in this area compared to non-criminals, meaning that it is underactive.

1. Cannot be one gene that controls all criminal behaviour - crimes differ dramatically (e.g. murder and fraud), so it’s unlikely that one gene causes both when they are so different.
2. Brain dysfunction is only evident in some criminals. Not a reliable predictor of whether someone is going to be a criminal or not.
3. Ignores the role of social factors - crimes may run in families because they learn this behaviour from parents, rather than inheriting it.

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Alternative Theory - Social Learning Theory

We learn behaviours by observing and imitating others. However, we don’t imitate everybody – only role models (people we admire and respect.

We are also more likely to imitate behaviour if we see someone else being rewarded, this is known as vicarious reinforcement.

Thought process: if I copy their behaviour, I will be rewarded too. (e.g. if their older sibling is a thief, and they manage to keep expensive items, a younger sibling might copy this behaviour as the expensive items act as a reward for the behaviour.

As a result, games and TV programmes glorifying violence are often banned or shown after the watershed (the time after which programmes that are regarded as unsuitable for children are broadcast on television) so that children are less likely to copy their behaviour.

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Core Study - Mednick et Al

Aim: to identify the possible causes of criminal behaviour (nature/ nurture)
Procedure: Adoption study in Denmark. Accessed the criminal records of over 14,000 males born between 1924 and 1947. Compared their records with those of their biological and adopted parents. 
Results: If biological parents had 3 or more convictions, they were significantly more likely to produce a son who committed crime than biological parents that had no convictions. if a person’s biological parents had been convicted, then they were more nearly twice as likely to be convicted themselves. Even when an adoptive parent had committed a crime, this had less impact than their biological parent committing a crime.
Conclusion: There is a strong genetic component to criminal behaviour. It seems the effect of the environment adds to the effect of genes.

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Core Study - Mednick et Al (Evaluation)

1. Records of criminal convictions may be unreliable. Rely on crimes being detected/ reported, and then criminals being convicted. Just because there is np record, that does not mean no crimes were committed.

2. With adoptions, most children spend time with their biological parents before being adopted. There is a possibility that they learnt that behvaiour before they were adopted out of the environment, rather than inheriting it biologically.

3. Bias in sample (gender) - only used males so can’t necessarily generalise the results to females. Females may be more or less likely to inherit criminal behaviour from biological parents.

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Applications of Research

Crime Prevention: using early intervention in schools or as part of youth/social services; aim to reinforce appropriate and cooperative behaviour. punishments also act as a crime prevention methods - people are less likely to carry out a behaviour if they know there will be negative consequences.

Rehabilitation: reinforcing positive attitudes and values; provide training in skills for criminals to give them alternatives to crime when they are released from institutions.

Use of prisons: Prisons offer a form of deterrent (punishment) by restricting freedom and limiting access to friends/ family, but also act as a form of rehabilitation as they provide training to help criminals when they leave prison.

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zhaina khanb


thank you soooo much for your help

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