Criminal Psychology

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  • Created by: Mariana
  • Created on: 05-10-12 14:49

Criminal Psychology

  • Looks at the role of psychology in understanding the causes of crime, ways psychologists can help in the criminal justice process and in providing interventions to reduce criminal behaviour.
  • A criminal act is one which society forbids or punishes
  • Hollin (1989) suggests 3 ways to define a crime
  1. Consensus view- an agreement amongst members of the society about which behaviours are unacceptable and therefore punishable
  2. Conflict view- this suggests that the criminal laws exist to protect the wealthy and powerful
  3. Interactionist view- this occupies the middle ground between the above approaches, it suggests there are no absolute values of right and wrong, different meanings are possible
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Key Terminology

  • Crime- any deviant act which violates written criminal law such as robbery, assault, **** or murder
  • Recidivism- relapsing back into a crime or anti- social behaviour after being trained or extinguished that behaviour.
  • Anti-social behaviour- any intimidating or threatening behaviour which causes or is likely to cause harassment alarm.
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Social Learning Theory

Social learning theory is the process in which a person observes a model (a person they look up to for example a celebrity or a parent) and try to repeat their actions.

Normally there are 2 reasons for this: power and gender. This is how they associate themselves. There is a process in which this occurs

1) Attention- the person sees the way the role model is acting and the person pays attention

2) Retention- this is the process in which the person has collected the information 

3) Reproduction/ Imitation- this is where they act out in their brain, the model

4) Motivation- Where they put their thoughts into action and copy the behaviour

An example would be Bandura's research where ARRM supported his study with children.

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Classical and Operant Conditioning

Classical conditioning is where we learn by making associations.

        UCS >>> UCR 

UCS + NS >>> UCR 

           CS >>> CR

Operant conditioning is learnt by punishment and consequences.

Skinner supported a theory where people learnt either, punishment, where they were removed something or reinforcement, either positive or negative, one would give something they need to provide positive behaviour the other they want.

Also vicarious reinforcement where people learn through others mistakes and successes.

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Bandura et al. (1961)

Aim: To show that learning can occur through observation of a model and imitation can happen without the presence of the model.


  • 72, 37-69 month old children (36 girls/36 boys)
  • It was a lab. experiment (3 conditions)
  • IV- model DV- number of imitated behaviour's shown. 
  • 24 children (matched pairs) 12 girls/12 boys in each condition
    1) exposed to model- child was placed in one room with another child, they stayed in a corner with chairs and painted, other child played with a bobo doll
    2) placed in other room- child was then taken to another room where they got the toys removed from them and their behaviour was observed through one way mirror
  • There were 4 different behaviour's recorded:
    1) imitation of behaviour of aggressive model
    2) partial imitation of behaviour of aggressive model
    3) non- imitative physical and verbal aggression
    4) non- aggressive behaviour
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Evaluation of Bandura

  • Findings: aggression shown by imitating the model, girls (verbal), boys (aggression)
  • Generalisability- the sample is american, large and consists of young children so it may be seen as american bias, but large sample means it can be generalised.
  • Reliability- high levels of control, emits extraneous variables and there are also standardised procedures, increases replicability which increases reliability.
  • Validity-low ecological validity, internal validity is low because the bobo doll is a toy, designed to be hit (not a realistic impression of aggression) 
  • Application- applies to crime through parents, family and media.
  • Ethics- caused psychological harm by creating aggression in the children, informed consent, may not be able to withdraw because of lack of understanding.
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The influence of TV studies (1)

  • Wilson et al. (2002) - counted 14 violent acts an hour in children's television but less than 4 in adult television
  • Huesmann (1986) - observed that children who identify more strongly with aggressive TV characters and perceive TV violence as more realistic are also more aggressive.
  • Bandura et al. (1963) - compared the effect of an aggressive adult model and a film of the same adult, preforming the same behaviours, dressed as a cartoon cat, they found that aggressive behaviour modeled by the cartoon cat produced the highest levels of imitated aggression in children.
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The influence of TV studies (2)

  • Boyatzis et al. (1995) - assessed the effect of the power rangers on children's aggressive behaviour. 52 boys and girls aged 5-11 were observed playing in their school classroom, half were shown an episode of power ranges and were observed again. The level of aggression in the children who's had seen the programme was 7x higher than in the control group (mostly boys)
  • Kniveton (1976) - allowed children to play with toys in a room before exposing then to a model, they imitated much less.
  • Eron et al. (1972) - measured the level of violence in TV programmes watched by 7-8 year old and measured their aggressiveness, they found a positive correlation between the two, by their teenage years Eron found an even stronger positive correlation of violence viewed and aggressiveness in boys (though not girls).
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The influence of TV studies (3)

  • Williams (1981) - conducted a natural experiment looking at the effect of the introduction of broadcast television to a remote community in Canada. The aggression in children in a town 'Notel' which initially had no TV was compared, over the same time span, to two other towns (one with just on TV channel and the other with many channels), following the introduction of broadcast television, the level of physical and verbal aggression in the children in 'Notel' almost doubled.
  • Hagell & Newbury (1994) - found that young offenders watched no more violent television than a school control group, They were more likely to be on the streets getting into trouble than indoors watching television.
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Charlton et al. (2000)

Aim: To investigate the effect if introduction of satellite TV on the aggressive behaviour of children 


  • Natural experiment
  • 3-8 year olds - St Helena Island (have not previously seen TV)
  • Behaviour analysed in 1994 (before TV)
  • 2 schools (total number of children-160) filmed in free play in school playground
  • 256 minutes of video was taken
  • In 2000 the children were assessed again 
  • 344 minuets of video was taken (only when children no longer noticed the researcher)
  • Not done in bad weather or when children were absent
  • 26 playground behaviour's inc. anti and pro social behaviour recorded
  • 30 mins of video analyses for behaviour's at a time by two researchers
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Charlton et al (2000) findings and conclusion


  • 9 significant behaviour's recorded
  • No significant differences in anti-social and pro- social
  • Pre- existing low levels of anti- social behaviour
  • Decrease in the pro social behaviour's for boys and girls 
  • Increase in pro- social behaviour's e.g. consoling, affection, sharing
  • Boys more likely to engage in anti- social behaviour's


  • Exposure to more violent TV does not necessarily result in aggressive behaviour. not much difference before and after TV
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Charlton et al (2000) Evaluation

  • Generalisability- the island is isolated so the sample and target population is very small, the island is an unusual environment and so the findings are unrepresentative of other western communities 
  • Reliability- because there were two researchers comparing behaviour's in times it is inter rater reliability so this means it is internally reliable
  • Validity- there is high external validity because it used children in a real life setting.
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The influence of video games and computers

  • Computer use has slightly different effects on human behaviour because it is a much more active process that simply viewing as is often the case with film and television.
  • This is partly because they are interactive- the player participates in violent acts- so they are more like 'real life' than simply watching, but also because the regulation of use is more difficult.
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Computer games and antisocial behaviour

  • Haninger & Thompson (2004) - analysed the content of computer games rated as suitable for teenagers in the USA. Of the games sampled:
  • 98% - be violent
  • 90% - injure
  • 69% - kill
  • 42% - showed the victims blood
  • Columbine High School massacre (1999) - Many commentators were quick to point out that the two teenage boys who carried out the  had spent many hours playing violent video games.
  • Hopf et al. (2008) - carried out a two- year longitudinal study on German teenagers, looking at both watching of violent films and playing violent games as predators of violent crime at the age of 14. Both factors did predict involvement in crime but the stronger relationship was with the violent games. Research also supports a role for both social learning and desensitation in the link between playing violent games and aggresive behaviours.
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The social approach: Self fulfilling prophecy

  • The idea that expecting something to happen is sometimes enough to make it come true. So if you expect that you will not get along with someone, that will mean that you don't, because you treat them differently.
  • The process of self fulfilling prophecy follows a certain order:

1)  Stereotyping- an assumption that a whole group of people have the same characteristics      based on no evidence or experience of one person

2)  Labeling- you label an individual from that group negatively based on the stereotype

3)  Prophecy-  you expect a person to act in a certain way based on the label you have given      them

4)  Response- you respond differently because of the expectations you have about them,            this is known as selective social interaction

  • This leads to the prophecy being fulfilled
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