Psychology Topic E

Are criminals born or made?

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  • Created by: M
  • Created on: 15-05-12 19:36

Biological explanation for criminality

  • Family studies: This involves comparing the family trees of criminals and non criminals. If many relatives are also criminals then this gives a strong link to the biological explanation of criminality
  • Adoption studies: These studies look at adopted siblings. They share the same genes but not the same environment as their parents or grandparents. This makes genetics the sole cause of criminality
  • Twin studies: Identical twins share the same genes so if they are both criminals then this provides a very strong link to criminality whearas with non identical twins they only share half of their genes so the link is not so strong
  • Chromosone abnormalities: XXY has been linked to violent crime an murderers have been found to have this chromosone abnormality. Although, it is so rare that there is not a large enough sample size.
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Social explanations for criminality

  • Divorce: divorce can lead to broken homes. Some research suggests that children from a broken home are twice as likely to become a criminal than those from an intact family.
  • Maternal deprivation: The child feels a sense of security with the main caregiver and may become distressed when they are separated. They lose the sense of a safe world and may feel rejected and turn to criminality. Bowlby questioned this and found 12 out of 14 boys had been separated from their main caregiver before the age of two
  • Family size: Families with a lot of children are likely to be linked to criminality because of the lack of attention that the child receives. Larger families may also have a lower income and this could be linked to drug use and stealing
  • Parental occupation: If the primary caregiver has a job with long hours then this could lead to maternal deprivation and then criminality.
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  • Induction: This involves explaining to the child what they have done wrong and what the consequences of their actions are. It encourages empathy as the child learns to see from another persons perspective
  • Love withdrawal: With this, a parent withdraws their affection for the child to make them feel guilty for their bad behaviour. The child's feelings are manipulated in such a way that they do not develop a clear sense of individuality and independence.
  • Power assertion: This is when a parent smacks their child and tells them off. This childrearing strategy is one of the most associated with delinquency in childhood. This may lead to aggression.
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Self fulfilling prophecy

Self fulfilling prophecy is a theory that simply states that a prediction of our behaviour will come true. If wwe are seen as or expected to become a criminal, then we will behave that way. 

Low expectations: If someone has low expectations of us, then we are likely to have low expectations of ourselves. This could not give us the motivation that we need to be able to do well and therefore we will fulfill that prophecy.

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Practical and ethical issues with criminal researc



  • In a study with lots of participants, only a handful will have the XXY chromosome so the sample size is small and so is the population validity
  • Chromosome abnormalities are very difficult to detect  and there are very few obvious signs
  • There is a weak link in family studies because many crimes are different but they are all considered crimes
  • These studies often rel upon convictions and arrest and many criminals are successful and won't be caught so they won't be included in the studies


  • It would not be ethical to say that the chromosome abnormality causes criminality because it is not 100% accurate
  • To tell a criminal that their genes are responsible for their crimes may make them believe that it was not their fault
  • Studies that have been conducted always keep the participants privacy
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Practical and ethical issues with criminal researc



  • We cannot carry out an experiment to make someone a criminal so any research just examines a link. This means that there may be other causes for criminal behaviour other than these.
  • Research often involves examining why people have turned to crime. Criminals and their family are questioned about past events and this means that they are relying on memory, which is unreliable and this may also be a way for criminals to escape taking responsibility for their actions.


  • If there is a link between family and criminal behaviour then it could be used to blame the parents for the children's behaviour. Parents shoudl npy be held responsible for their children's actions.
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Gathering information from convicted criminals


  • The criminals may use the research as a way of gaining early release from prison by telling psychologists that they are sorry for their crimes
  • Convicted offenders may try to glorify their crimes tro make them more important than they are
  • Offenders may feel guilty about their crimes and may not want to talk about them
  • Criminals may think that that the information that they give could be used to convict other criminals and may think that the criminal may get back at them
  • They might withhold certain information so to protect their family, friends or criminal group


  • They should be treated the same even if they are convicted criminals: they should still have the right to withdraw, they should still have their privacy upheld
  • Criminals should not be distressed when talking about the crimes that they have committed and should not have to talk about them if they do not want to
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Forensic psychologists

What does a forensic psychologist do?

  • works in courts to uncover psychological issues
  • looks at psychological aspects of criminal behaviour
  • looks at psychological apsects of treating this behaviour

Skills required:

  • communication
  • write well
  • problem soplving skills
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Forensic psychologists 2


  • carry out assessments, interventions and evaluations of interventions
  • all use treatments to help manage behaviour
  • mainly work for NHS, prison service or local education authority
  • needs to have a degree in psychology as well as a specialist degree
  • tend to be chartered
  • similar skills
  • carry out research


  • Personal construct therapy: learning how to judge people differently
  • Sex offenders: they have to go on a course to treat sexual issues
  • CBT: this involves helping someone to change how they think about something and therefore behave differently
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Jury making decisions and attractiveness

Jury's can be affected by these factors in a defendant:

  • Race: a higher proportion of ethnic minorities are in prison, as some juries associate them with crime and some may also be racist
  • Attractiveness: we often view attractive people as being more intelligent, frienly and honest and therefore would not associate them with crime whearas we may associate unattractive people with crimes.
  • Accent: if a defendant is well spoken then we may not associate them with crime because we may associate them with having a lot of money and therefore not needing to commit crimes. But if you are not so well spoken then you may be associated with commiting crimes.
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Excellent! Thank you! Good Luck for the GCSE! **

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