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Exploring the association between crime and delinquency

Review of the Roots of Youth Violence: Literature Reviews Volume 5, Chapter 2: Psychological Theories The issue of human violence is also a major topic within the academic discipline of psychology. As biosocial theorists do, psychologists focus on how individual characteristics may interact with the social environment to produce a violent event. However, rather than focus on the biological basis of crime, psychologists focus on how mental processes impact individual propensities for violence.

Psychologists are often interested in the association between learning, intelligence, and personality and aggressive behaviour.

In this section of the report, we briefly review some of the major psychological perspectives that have attempted to explain violent behaviour. These perspectives include the psychodynamic perspective, behavioural theory, cognitive theory and personality theory.

We will also explore the possible relationship between mental illness and violence. The Psychodynamic Perspective The psychodynamic perspective is largely based on the groundbreaking ideas of Sigmund Freud.

Freud also felt that early childhood experiences had a profound impact on adolescent and adult behaviour. For Freud, aggression was thus a basic idbased human impulse that is repressed in well-adjusted people who have experienced a normal childhood.

It is interesting to note that Freud himself did not theorize much about crime or violence.

Psychological Theories

The psychoanalyst who is perhaps most closely associated with the study of criminality is August Aichorn. Unlike many of the sociologists of his day, Aichorn felt that exposure to stressful social environments did not automatically produce crime or violence. After all, most people are exposed to extreme stress and do not engage in serious forms of criminality. Aichorn felt that stress only produced crime in those who had a particular mental state known as latent delinquency.

Latent delinquency, according to Aichorn, results from inadequate childhood socialization and manifests itself in the need for immediate gratification impulsivitya lack of empathy for others, and the inability to feel guilt Aichorn, 1935.

It is also argued that youth with weak egos are immature and easily led into crime and violence by deviant peers Andrews and Bonta, 1994. In sum, psychodynamic theories depict the violent offender as an impulsive, easily frustrated person who is dominated by events or issues that occurred in early childhood.

In other words, the theory has not yet been subject to rigorous scientific verification.

Nonetheless, it is important to stress that basic psychodynamic principles have had a major impact on the subsequent development of criminological thought. For example, many other theories of violence have come to stress the importance of the family and early childhood experiences. Similarly, a number of sociological and criminological theories stress that violent criminals are impulsive and lack empathy for others see the discussion of self-control theory below.

Many of these theories are discussed in upcoming sections of this report. Behavioural Theories Behaviour theory maintains that all human behaviour — including violent behaviour — is learned through interaction with the social environment.

Exploring the association between crime and delinquency argue that people are not born with a violent disposition. Rather, they learn to think and act violently as a result of their day-to-day experiences Bandura, 1977.

These experiences, proponents of the behaviourist tradition maintain, might include observing friends or family being rewarded for violent behaviour, or even observing the glorification of violence in the media.

Studies of family life, for example, show that aggressive children often model the violent behaviours of their parents. Studies have also found that people who live in violent communities learn to model the aggressive behaviour of their neighbours Bartol, 2002. Behavioural theorists have argued that the following four factors help produce violence: Early empirical tests of these four principles were promising Bartol, 2002.

As a result, behavioural theory directly contributed to the development of social learning theories of deviance differential association theory, sub-cultural theory, neutralization theory, etc. These theories, among the most important and influential of all criminological theories, are subject to a detailed discussion in the section of this report entitled Social Learning and Violence see below.

Cognitive Development and Violence Cognitive theorists focus on how people perceive their social environment and learn to solve problems. The moral and intellectual development perspective is the branch of cognitive theory that is most associated with the study of crime and violence. He argued that, during the first stage of development the sensor-motor stagechildren respond to their social environment in a simple fashion by focusing their attention on interesting objects and developing their motor skills.

Review of the Roots of Youth Violence: Literature Reviews

By the final stage of the development the formal operations stagechildren have developed into mature adults who are capable of complex reasoning and abstract thought. Kohlberg 1969 applied the concept of moral development to the study of criminal behaviour.

He argued that all people travel through six different stages of moral development. At the first stage, people only obey the law because they are afraid of punishment. By the sixth stage, however, people obey the law because it is an assumed obligation and because they believe in the universal principles of justice, equity, and respect for others. In his research, Kohlberg found that violent youth were significantly lower in their moral development than non-violent youth — even after controlling for social background Kohlberg et al.

Since his pioneering efforts, studies have consistently found that people who obey the law simply to avoid punishment i.

Higher levels of moral reasoning, on the other hand, are associated with acts of altruism, generosity and non-violence Veneziano and Veneziano, 1992. In sum, the weight of the evidence suggests that people with lower levels of moral reasoning will engage in crime and violence when they think they can get away with it.

On the other hand, even when presented with the opportunity, people with higher levels of moral reasoning will refrain from criminal behaviour because they think it is wrong. Another area of cognitive theory that has received considerable attention from violence researchers involves the study of information processing. Psychological research suggests that when people make decisions, they engage in a series of complex thought processes.

First they encode and interpret the information or stimuli they are presented with, then they search for a proper response or appropriate action, and finally, they act on their decision Dodge, 1986. According to information processing theorists, violent individuals may be using information incorrectly when they make their decisions.

Violence-prone youth, for example, may see people as more threatening or aggressive than they actually are. This may cause some youth to react with violence at the slightest provocation. According to this perspective, aggressive children are more vigilant and suspicious than normal youth are — a factor that greatly increases their likelihood of engaging in violent behaviour. Consistent with this perspective, research suggests that some youth who engage in violent attacks on others actually believe that they are defending themselves, even when they have totally misinterpreted the level of threat Lochman, 1987.

Recent research also indicates that male rapists often have little sympathy for their own victims, but do in fact empathize with the female victims of other sexual offenders. A number of early criminologists argued that certain personality types are more prone to criminal behaviour. The Gluecks Glueck and Glueck, 1950for example, identified a number of personality exploring the association between crime and delinquency that they felt were associated with violence, including self-assertiveness, defiance, extroversion, narcissism and suspicion.

More recently, researchers have linked violent behaviours to traits such as hostility, egoism, self-centredness, spitefulness, jealousy, and indifference to or lack of empathy for others. Criminals have also been found to lack ambition and perseverance, to have difficulty controlling their tempers and other impulses, and to be more likely than conventional people are exploring the association between crime and delinquency hold unconventional beliefs see Atkins, 2007; Capara et al.

The use of these scales has consistently produced a statistically significant relationship between certain personality characteristics and criminal behaviour. Adolescents who are prone to violence typically respond to frustrating events or situations with strong negative emotions.

They often feel stressed, anxious and irritable in the face of adverse social conditions. Psychological testing also suggests that crime-prone youth are also impulsive, paranoid, aggressive, hostile, and quick to take action against perceived threats Avshalom et al. There is considerable debate about the causal direction of the personality-violence association.

On the one hand, some scholars have argued that there is a direct causal link between certain personality traits and criminal behaviour. However, others maintain that personality characteristics interact with other factors to produce crime and violence. For example, defiant, impulsive youth often have less-than-stellar educational and work histories.

Poor education and employment histories subsequently block opportunities for economic success. These blocked opportunities, in turn, lead to frustration, deprivation, and ultimately, criminal activity Miller and Lynam, 2001. Psychopathy and Violence Research suggests that some serious violent offenders may have a serious personality defect commonly known as psychopathy, sociopathy or anti-social personality disorder.

Psychopaths are impulsive, have low levels of guilt and frequently violate the rights of others. They have been described as egocentric, manipulative, cold-hearted, forceful, and incapable of feeling anxiety or remorse over their violent actions.

Psychopaths are also said to be able to justify their actions to themselves so that they always appear to be reasonable and justified. Considering these negative personality traits, it is perhaps not surprising that recent studies show that psychopaths are significantly more prone to violence compared with the normal population.

Furthermore, the research evidence also suggests that psychopaths often continue with their criminal careers long after others have aged out of crime.

It has been estimated that approximately 30 per cent of all prison inmates in the United States are psychopaths. More recent projections, however, place this estimate closer to ten per cent. However, psychopaths are particularly over-represented among chronic offenders. Indeed, it is estimated that up to 80 per cent of chronic offenders exhibit psychopathic personalities.

In sum, research suggests that psychopaths have a significantly higher likelihood of violence than others do. However, experts also stress that not all psychopaths become violent. In fact, the majority of people convicted of violent crimes in Canada and the US do not have a psychopathic personality see reviews in Edens et al.

A recent meta-analysis conducted by Edens and his colleagues 2007 summarizes juvenile recidivism data in relation to psychopathology. The authors searched and coded both published and unpublished studies completed between 1990 and 2005.

The studies they reviewed include an even split between American and Canadian samples with one additional sample from Sweden. The results of their ambitious project reveal that a juvenile diagnosis for psychopathy is a strong predictor of future violence in adulthood. The findings further demonstrate that psychopathy is significantly related to both general and violent recidivism, but only weakly associated with sexual recidivism.

Interestingly, the data also reveal that psychopathy is a weaker predictor of violent recidivism among more racially diverse samples. Psychologists think that a number of early childhood factors might contribute to the development of a psychopathic or sociopathic personality. These factors include having an emotionally unstable parent, parental rejection, lack of love during childhood and inconsistent discipline.

Young children — in the first three years of life — who do not have the opportunity to emotionally bond with their mothers, experience a sudden separation from their mothers, or see changes in their mother figures are at particularly high risk of developing a psychopathic personality. Intelligence and Violence Another major area of psychological inquiry involves the possible relationship between intelligence and crime.

Criminologists working in the early 20th century often argued that intelligence is strongly associated with criminal behaviour. People with low intelligence, they argued, were much more likely to engage in crime and violence than people with high intelligence were. Support for this hypothesis was garnered from studies that directly compared the IQ scores of adolescents with IQ scores derived from the general population.

In general, these pioneering studies reported that the IQ scores of delinquents were significantly lower than the IQ scores of normal controls Goddard, 1920; Healy and Bronner, 1926. Simplistic notions that low intelligence causes crime and delinquency often led to disastrous results.