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Criminals: mad, bad or calculating? Psychological Approaches in Criminology Understanding Criminology 19.1.09.

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Presentation on theme: "Criminals: mad, bad or calculating? Psychological Approaches in Criminology Understanding Criminology 19.1.09."— Presentation transcript:

1 Criminals: mad, bad or calculating? Psychological Approaches in Criminology Understanding Criminology 19.1.09.

2 Physical or biological factors can be used to identify criminals from non-criminals Physiology / Phrenology Lombroso: physical characteristics signalling a lower stage of development associated with criminality Charles Goring: comparison of recidivist criminals and ‘non-criminals’: the latter were two inches shorter and weighed 3-7 lbs. less “Innate” factors / The Born Criminal / Constitutional Factors

3 Common Problems Methodological – The choice of comparison groups is rarely adequate – Criminal groups: always prisoners – Non-criminals groups: rarely randomly selected Logic – Any significant differences are taken to be signifiers of constitutional difference – Environmental or social factors ignored Uncritical use of concept of criminality

4 Genetic Explanations Sought to explain the apparent transmission of criminality across generations of families Richard Dugdale (1877) : ‘degenerate families’ Goring (1913): attempted to control for environmental factors Twin Studies: – Logic: if genetic explanations hold, identical twins should be more alike than non-identical twins – If raised in separate environments, theory stronger Genetic Disorders?

5 Personality Theories of Criminality Personality: relatively consistent temperamental and emotional characteristics or “traits” Hans Eysenck: identified 2 key strains – Extraversion / Introversion – Neuroticism / Stable – People who were highly extrovert and highly neurotic are seeking high levels of excitement and stimulation, but not easily controlled – 3 rd strain: psychoticism

6 Eysenck, Personality and Control NEPCondition Stable IntrovertsLow Easy Stable extrovertsLowHighFairly Easy Neurotic Introverts HighLowFairly Easy Neurotic Extroverts High Difficult Neurotic Extorverts / Highly Psychotic High Most Difficult

7 “A General Theory of Crime” Gottfredson and Hirschi Patterns of criminality in individuals can be explained with reference to low self-control Low self-control is stable in individuals Crime represents short-term gratification and self- interest Other sources of immediate gratification (e.g. drinking, speeding, casual sex) reflect low self- control Low self-control established in early socialisation Problems: definition of crime; criminal opportunity; white-collar crime; empirical basis

8 Learning Theories Behaviour is determined by environmental consequences Pavlov: demonstrated a response could be learnt / automated by a repeated stimulus Key to learning theories is cognition / understanding Bandura and the ‘Bobo’ doll The most sociological psychology e.g. Differential Association theory (Sutherland) Influential in impact of media coverage

9 Summary of Psychological explanations for criminality Interesting areas of research Offer some explanations, but partial explanations Methodological problems Criminal / Non-criminal distinction fairly unproblematically accepted More successful when focussing on a narrow range of criminal behaviour (eg. Violence) Less successful in addressing volume criminality, and widespread deviance

10 Why do People Obey the Law? – Tom Tyler First published 1990 Considers why people comply with the law, the legitimacy they afford legal authorities, and their dealings with the same authorities Contrasts “normative” and “instrumental” perspectives

11 Setting out the Study Compliance with the law is not complete: everyone at times breaks the law Problem for legal authorities and law makers: – How can compliance with the law be maximised most effectively? Contrasts Instrumental and Normative Theories

12 Instrumental Approach People behave according to the perceived costs and benefits of any particular action: rational choice, economic thinking Deterrence: maximise likelihood of arrest, punishment and level of penalties People evaluate authorities in terms of the favourability of outcomes to them Implicitly adopted by policy makers removes the need to communicate with public, or be responsive to it allows the authorities to control their own agenda Problems: Logic e.g. drink-driving; tax-evasion Costs

13 Normative Approach What guides people in behaviour, and evaluation is not self interest, but other issues about morality and justice Either – a personal commitment to obey (or not) a particular law because it is just OR -a recognition of the law as a legitimate authority that has the right to dictate behaviour: covers all laws -Question: to what extent do normative considerations affect compliance independently of instrumental, deterrence based judgements?

14 Impact of Personal Experiences How does contact with legal authorities affect views of legitimacy? Do people distinguish between procedures and outcomes? Between winning and being treated fairly? Which aspects affect behaviour and compliance? – normative experience: fair outcomes, fair procedures – instrumental approach: favourability of outcomes

15 Legitimacy legitimate authority: a more stable base on which to rest compliance than personal or group morality – flexible: can be used to apply to any obligation that the State identifies – personal morality is double-edged: may lead to resistance to the law Is the legitimacy based around – a perceived obligation to obey? – affective support for authorities? – or both? Is legitimacy diffuse (general support) or specific (based on performance)?


17 Deterrence, personal morality or legitimacy Normative concerns are a more important determinant of law-abiding behaviour than instrumental concerns – primarily, people obey the law because it accords with a person’s own sense of right and wrong – secondarily, a person’s feeling of obligation to obey the law personal morality, and the sense of obligation reinforce each other authorities cannot plan on people’s personal morality, but they can rely on their own legitimacy personal morality is especially problematic in a pluralistic society, though the high levels of normative commitment in these circumstances are striking legitimacy is an easier factor to influence than deterrence

18 Q2. How do people’s evaluations of experiences affect legitimacy? What do people consider when evaluating legal authorities? – Instrumental: favourable outcomes? – Expectation based? – Normative? Distributive Justice: fairness Procedural Justice: how justice is achieved


20 “Because experience influences legitimacy, legal authorities cannot take citizens allegiance for granted. It can be eroded by unsatisfactory experiences with police officers and judges. And legitimacy will be eroded if the legal system consistently fails to meet citizens’ standards. On the other hand, the existing reserve of legitimacy can be increased over time by positive personal experiences with police officers and judges.”

21 Implications for Policy Emphasis on procedural justice – suspects being let off on ‘technicalities’ – ‘plea bargaining’ Willingness to comply, based on legitimacy can be effectively tapped: requires investment in terms of fairness A need to understand what is ‘fair’ – fair procedures for decision making – AND – public views on distributive justice Dangers with a purely procedural justice model – temptation may be for authorities to appear fair, rather than actually address problems

22 Overall Summary Legitimacy and personal morality are much better predictors of compliance than deterrence Legitimacy is affected significantly by evaluations of fairness in dealings with legal authorities Most effective way to ensure compliance is to ensure fairness in terms of procedural and distributive justice

23 Summary Strengths – Interesting Research – Strong Empirical approach; rigorous methodology – Offers a balance to more sociological approaches Weaknesses – Mono-causality – Underplays the social – Assumptions of “one size fits all” explanations

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