Criminal Psychology Revision Notes

  • Created by: nichollsa
  • Created on: 11-06-18 12:27

1.           Criminal Psychology Notes

Defining Crime

  • Criminal behaviour is an act that is against the law. There are many different types of crime.
  • Criminal behaviour ranges from minor crimes (e.g. motoring offences) to more serious crimes (e.g. murder)
  • Offences can be violent, drug-related, acquisitive, sexual or anti-social
  • Different societies consider different things to be a crime, meaning that crime is often a social construct. E.g. euthanasia is legal in some countries, but is illegal in the UK.
  • How societies decide what is criminal behaviour and what is not is often decided by the norms of the society.
  • Therefore culture is important in defining criminal and anti-social behaviours

Explanations of why criminal behaviour occurs: Social Learning Theory

  • Social Learning Theory (SLT) proposes that we learn all our behaviour from others
  • SLT starts with role models, who are people we look up to and respect. We go through a process of identification where we decide we want to be like them and try to copy them. This is observation and imitation and can be applied to criminal behaviour
  • According to SLT, we learn through vicarious reinforcement. This is when we see someone rewarded for their behaviour and so we copy it to get the same rewards
  • If a behaviour is strengthened through continual reinforcement it becomes internalised. This means the behaviour becomes ‘a part of’ the person. This can lead to learnt criminal behaviours.

Criticisms of Social Learning Theory

  • Social Learning Theory only focuses on the role of nurture, and ignores the role of nature. Some people have argued that there is a ‘criminal gene’ or that some people are born more likely to commit crimes than others.
  • The theory does not explain how criminal behaviour starts in the first place. It doesn’t explain how the ‘first wave’ of crimes came about.
  • The theory does not account for people who turn to crime, even though they have not been exposed to criminal role models.
  • If SLT is correct, it should be easier to reduce crime. If criminal behaviour is strengthened through rewards then is should be reduced by receiving punishment or seeing others being punished. However many people still commit crimes after being punished.

Explanations of why criminal behaviour occurs: Eysenck’s Criminal Personality Theory

  • Eysenck’s criminal personality theory views criminal behaviour as being more fixed and suggests that the impulse to behave in a criminal way is something people are born with
  • Eysenck identified three traits, which are all measured on a scale (i.e. everyone has them in varying degrees).
  • Extraversion: people who score highly are out-going, sociable and


Sara K .


Thank you so much