Criminology | Section 5.2


Fundamentals of Criminology

Adam J. McKee, Ph.D.

Scott D. Bransford, Ph.D.


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Personality Theory

In personality theory, the problem lies not in unconscious motivation, but in the content of the person’s personality.  The basic proposition here is that criminals have abnormal, inadequate personality traits that differentiate them from law-abiding people.

One version Explains criminal behavior as an expression of such deviant personality traits as impulsiveness, aggressiveness, sensation seeking, rebelliousness, hostility, and so on.

Another Version Claims that criminals differ from law-abiding persons in basic personality type.  Conformity reflects a normal personality.  Serious criminal violations spring from an aberrant personality, variously labeled as psychopathic, antisocial, or sociopath personality.  These labels are applied to self-centered persons who have not been properly socialized into prosocial attitudes and values, which have developed no sense of right and wrong, and no empathy with others, no remorse for wrongs committed.

Evaluation is problematic:  The concept is so broad that it can be applied to anyone who violates the law.  Estimates range from 10% to 80% of offenders, depending on the definition.  Some definitions use measures of criminal activity to determine personality disorders—creating a tautology.

The research using personality inventories and other methods of measuring personality characteristics have not been able to produce findings to support personality variables as major causes of criminal and delinquent behavior.

According to this perspective, criminals should be treated as sick people who are not responsible in any rational sense.  Punishment will not help; only create more guilt and make things worse.  Once underlying emotional problems are fixed criminality will go away.

Psychoanalytic treatment:  The criminal must undergo psychoanalytic treatment to help him uncover the repressed causes of the behavior, which lies hidden in the unconscious.  The objective is to reveal to the person’s conscious mind the deep-seated unconscious motivations driving criminality—then it can be handled by the conscious mind.

Modification History

File Created:  08/04/2018

Last Modified:  08/13/2018

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