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Psychological and Psychiatric Foundations of Criminal Behavior

After reading this chapter, you should be able to
  • Identify the contributions of psychology and psychiatry to the understanding of criminal behavior
  • Explain the relationship between personality and criminal behavior
  • Recognize the importance of modeling theory to an understanding of criminality
  • Understand the unique characteristics of those found not guilty by reason of insanity
  • Identify current social policy that reflects the psychological approach to criminal behavior

The following material addresses some of these objectives in more detail:

Major Principles of Psychological Theories

This brief section serves to summarize the central features of psychological theories of crime causation. Each of these points can be found elsewhere in this chapter, where they are discussed in more detail. This cursory overview, however, is intended to provide more than a summary—it is meant to be a guide to the rest of this chapter.

Most psychological theories of crime causation make certain fundamental assumptions. Among them are

  • The individual is the primary unit of analysis.

  • Personality is the major motivational element within individuals, because it is the seat of drives and the source of motives.

  • Crimes result from abnormal, dysfunctional, or inappropriate mental processes within the personality.

  • Criminal behavior, while condemned by the social group, may be purposeful for the individual insofar as it addresses certain felt needs. Behavior can be judged "inappropriate" only when measured against external criteria purporting to establish normality.

  • Normality is generally defined by social consensus—that is, what the majority of people in any social group agree is "real," appropriate, or typical.

Defective, or abnormal, mental processes may have a variety of causes, including

  • A diseased mind.

  • Inappropriate learning or improper conditioning.

  • The emulation of inappropriate role models.

  • Adjustment to inner conflicts.

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