Eysenck's Personality Theory



Hans Eysenck developed a theory of criminality based on his theory of personality. He argues that criminality is the result of a particular personality type.

For Eysenck, our personality is made up of 3 dimensions:

Extraversion versus introversion (E for short)

Neuroticism versus emotional stability (N for short)

Psychoticism versus mental stabilitiy (P for short)

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Personality Types

Extraverted personalities

Outgoing, sociable, excitement-seeking, impulsive, carefree, optimistic, often aggressive, short-tempered and unreliable.

Introverted personalities

Reserved, inward-looking, thoughtful, serious, quiet, self-controlled, pessimistic and reliable.

Neurotic personalities

Anxious, moody, often depressed and prone to over-reacting – whereas emotionally stable personalities are calm, even-tempered, controlled and unworried.

Psychotic personalities

Solitary misfits who are cruel, insensitive, aggressive  and lacking in empathy. High P score tends to overlap with serious mental illnesses such as schizophrenia.

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Eysenck devised the Eysenck Personality Questionnaire to measure people’s personality traits, ranking them on an E scale and an N scale.

For example, people with a high E score are very extraverted, whereas people with a low E score are very introverted.

Eysenck found that most people have personalities somewhere around the middle on both scales. 

By contrast, the criminal personality scores high on both E and N. So, criminals according to Eysenck tend to be strongly extraverted and neurotic.

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Eysenck explains his findings by drawing on 2 ideas: conditioning and genetic inheritance.

Conditioning - Some psychologists argue that through experience, we learn to seek pleasure (or rewards) and avoid pain (or punishment). This process is called ‘conditioning’.

Genetic inheritance - Eysenck argues that we learn through conditioning, but that some individuals inherit a nervous system that causes them to develop a criminal personality.

Extraverts - Have a nervous system that needs a high level of stimulation from their environment, so they are constantly seeking excitement. This leads to impulsive, rule-breaking behaviour.

Neurotics - Harder to condition into following society’s rules because their high anxiety levels prevent them learning from punishment for their mistakes.

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-The theory is useful in describing how some measurable tendencies could increase a person’s risk of offending

- Eysenck predicts that high E, N and P scores lead to criminality and some studies support his predictions: offenders tend towards being extravert, neurotic and psychotic.

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- Farrington (1982) examined a range of studies. These show prisoners are neurotic and psychotic, but not extraverted

- The E scale may be measuring two separate things: impulsiveness and sociability. Offenders score highly on impulsiveness, but not sociability.

- Evidence on prisoners shows a correlation between personality type and criminality, but this doesn’t prove that personality type causes criminality. It could be the other way round: being in prison might cause people to become neurotic. 

- Convicted offenders may not be typical of offenders as a whole. For example, less impulsive (low N) offenders may be more likely to avoid getting caught.

- Eysenck used self-report questionnaires, which may not produce valid results: people may lie whern asked about themselves

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