Studying the Psychology Behind Crimes By Vaibhavi Perugu from Symbiosis Law School
Have we ever thought that why normal people like us, transform themselves into criminals? Have we ever thought about how many reasons would have affected them to take such major steps in their lives? There are mainly three psychological theories which explains criminal psychology. First of which is psychodynamic theory, which is based on the individuals childhood experiences which plays a big role on an individual’s life and such experiences leads to further behavior of an individual. Second is behavioral theory and the third is cognitive theory which talks about how an individual’s perception would lead to criminal activity. Let’s discuss about these three theories.
This theory is largely based on the ideas of Sigmund Freud. This theory states that an individual’s personality is controlled by his unconscious mental process which depends on his early childhood. This theory has three ingredients (i) the id, (ii) the ego, and (iii) the superego. According to Freud’s theory the ID represents the unconscious biological drive for food, sex, and other necessities in a person’s lifespan. It is majorly concerned with instant pleasure without being concerned about others. The second ingredient is the EGO. For instance, we see that if a child wishes something then they often throw tantrums. According to Freud, the ego compensates a person’s need of id by keeping him or her within their boundaries. The third element is the SUPER EGO which is developed after a person starts socializing and start learning morals and values.
Behavioral theory says that all human behavior is learned from the social environment and the day to day interaction, be it a pleasant behavior or violent behavior. Behaviorists argue that no person is born with a violent behavior as it depends on what they learn from the day to day interaction with people. These experiences may include observing friends or family or can also be the influence of the media.
Behaviorists have argued that the following four factors can lead to violent behavior:
- A stressful event like a threat, assault or a challenge.
- Aggressive skill or techniques learned by observing others.
- Think that aggression would reduce their stress, frustration or increase their self-confidence.
- A value system which accepts violent behavior.
Behavioral theory sums up to the development of social learning. This theory is important to the criminological theories.
This theory focuses on people’s perception towards their social environment and their ability to learn to solve their problems. The moral and intellectual development perspective is the most important branch to study crime and violence. Kohlberg's theory of moral reasoning; humans advance through predictable stages of moral reasoning. Delinquency is not synonymous with immoral behavior. The reasoning of higher moral stages is less likely to fit in with a criminal lifestyle. Justification for violating the law can be found at all stages.
Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Development
- Stage 1
- Right is blindly obeying those with power and authority.
- Emphasis is on avoiding punishment.
- Interests of others are not considered.
- Stage 2
- Right is furthering one’s own interests.
- Interests of others are important only as a way to satisfy self-interests.
- Stage 3
- Moral reasoning is motivated by loyalties to others and a desire to live up to other’s standards.
- Stage 4
- Right is following the rules of society and maintaining important social institutions (e.g., family, community).
- Stage 5
- Moral decisions are made by weighing individual rights against legal principles and the common good.
- Stage 6
- Moral decisions are based on universal principles (e.g., human dignity, desire for justice).
- Principles are considered across different contexts and are independent of the law.
Cognitive Content: Rationalizations or denials that support criminal behavior. For example, a criminal thinks, “I’m not really hurting anyone.” Criminals are more likely to express such thoughts, but the relationship (causation or correlation) to crime is unclear. Extremely common for sex offenders.
Policy Implications of Cognitive Psychology: Cognitive theory translates easily into practice. Cognitive skills programs teach offenders cognitive skills like moral reasoning, anger management, or self-control. Cognitive restructuring attempts to change the content of an individual’s thoughts. Combination cognitive-behavioral programs have had significant success.
The common emphasis of all psychological theories is on the individual. Each theory must be evaluated on its ability to account for criminality. Not all theories are well supported by evidence. Many psychological theories translate well into treatment programs.
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