A Level Psychology Checklists: Paper 3 Section D: Forensic
From the specification
•• Problems in defining crime. Ways of measuring crime, including official statistics, victim surveys and
•• Offender profiling: the top-down approach, including organised and disorganised types of offender;
the bottom-up approach, including investigative Psychology; geographical profiling.
•• Biological explanations of offending behaviour: an historical approach (atavistic form); genetics and
•• Psychological explanations of offending behaviour: Eysenck’s theory of the criminal personality;
cognitive explanations; level of moral reasoning and cognitivedistortions, including hostile attribution
bias and minimalisation; differential association theory; psychodynamic explanations.
•• Dealing with offending behaviour: the aims of custodial sentencing and the psychological effects of
custodial sentencing. Recidivism. Behaviour modification in custody. Anger management and restorative
CAN DO CHECK LIST I need
1. Describe problems in defining crime
2. Discuss ways of measuring crime including official statistics, victim surveys
and offender surveys.
3. Discuss the top-down approach to offender profiling including organised
and disorganised types of offenders. (Canter)
4. Discuss the bottom-up approach to offender profiling including investigative
psychology and geographical profiling. (Canter and Heritage, Canter)
5. Discuss the historical approach (atavistic form) to explaining offending
behaviour. (Lombroso, Goring)
6. Discuss genetic and neural explanations of offending behaviour. (Lange,
Tiihonen, Raine, Mednik)
7. Discuss Eysenck’s theory of the criminal personality. (Eysenck, Bartol)
8. Discuss cognitive explanations of offending behaviour including levels of
moral reasoning and cognitive distortions (hostile attribution bias,
mineralisation). (Kohlberg Dodge, Palmer and Hollin)
9. Discuss differential association theory for offending behaviour. (Sutherland)
10. Discuss psychodynamic explanations for offending behaviour (Bowlby,
11. Discuss the aims and psychological effects of custodial sentencing including
12. Discuss the use of behaviour modification in custody. (Bassett and
13. Discuss the use of anger management to deal with offending behaviour.
14. Discuss the use of restorative justice programmes. (Braithwaite, Shapland)
Key concepts: Forensic psychology
Defining and measuring crime
The criminal personality
Level of moral reasoning
Hostile attribution bias
Minimalisation (or minimisation)
Differential association theory
The top-down approach
The bottom-up approach
Dealing with offending behaviour
Legalistic definition: an act which breaks the laws of society. This is a straightforward
definition but crime is in realitymore difficultto define because of a number of
Sort card activity:
CRIME NOT A CRIME
Why was it difficult to complete this task?
C A S H
Culture: what is a crime in one culture is not in another. Particular difficulties arise
when a person who has their origins in cultural background live in a different
culture, but prefer to retain their own cultural ideas of what is right or wrong. E.g. in
some cultures forced marriage is acceptable yet UK law dictates that this is wrong.
Age: if a person is below the age of criminal responsibility (10 years in England)
then a law which is broken by that person cannot be considered to be a crime.
E.g. if a 3 year old child walks out of a shop without paying for some sweets then
this is not a crime. This is because they are not at a level where they can
understand the difference between right and wrong.
Specific circumstances: crime should involve conscious rule-breaking. If a person
commits an act which technically breaks the law but this act is performed with no
mens rea (criminal intention, guilty mind) then it cannot be defined as a crime. If
the person could not have prevented themselves from acting in violation of the law
(e.g. mental illness) then it is difficult to determine the act as a crime.
Historical context: the definition of crime changes to reflect society’s changing
norms and values. For example, until the 1960s any male homosexual behaviour
Give examples of acts that are a crime in one culture but not another.
Give examples of acts that where a crime and are no longer, and are now a crime
but didn’t used to be.
was considered to be a criminal act, punishable by imprisonment. The law was changed in 1967
however, the age of consent was set at 21 years. As society’s acceptance of homosexuality
changed, the age of consent was lowered to 18 in 1979. In 2000, this was deemed to be
discriminatory and was lowered to 16 years, in line with the heterosexual age of consent.
WAYS OF MEASURING CRIME
OFFICIAL STATISTICS EVALUATION
the crimes reported to the police and recorded
in the official figures that allow the
government to formulate prevention strategies
and police initiatives. These are published by
the Home Office as a “snapshot” of the number
of crimes committed across the country.
E: Farrington and Dowds (1985): police in
Nottinghamshire were more likely than other areas to
record thefts of under £10. This is a clear weakness of
Official Statistics because …..
VICTIM SURVEYS EVALUATION
the public’s experience of crime over a
particular period. 50,000 households are
randomly chosen to report on the crimes that
they have been a victim of in the past year and
this is compiled in the Crime Survey for
England and Wales
E: “Telescoping” may happen when a person
remembers an event as happening in the past year
when it didn’t and this may distort the figures. E:
However, the British Crime Survey reported a 3%
increase in crimes as victims are more likely to report
on crime unrecorded by police (the same year the
official statistics reported a 2% decrease!)
OFFENDER SURVEYS EVALUATION
individuals self-report on the types of crimes
that they have committed. These people are
likely to be offenders based on certain risk
factors such as previous convictions, age range
and socio-economic background. The Offender
Crime and Justice Survey was the first national
self-report of this kind; it aimed to identify
P: Offender surveys provide insight into how many
people are involved in particular crimes. Confidentiality
is assured when offenders self-report. However,
reliability may not always be reached since
E: Certain types of crime may be over-represented such
as burglary or theft. Middle class crimes such as fraud
and corporate crime are unlikely to be represented.
trends in offending and the relationship
between perpetrators and victims.
E: This is because
Is: A method of working out the characteristics of an offender by examining the characteristics of
the crime and the crime scene.
The top-down approach: the FBI approach
• The phrase top-down refers to an approach, which starts with the big picture and then fills
in the details. The Top Down of FBI approach relies on previous experiences of crimes.
• In the 1970’s the FBIs behavioural Science Unit gathered data from 36 sexually motivated
serial killers, including Charles Manson & Ted Bundy to develop this approach to Offender
• In 1980 Hazelwood and Douglas published their account of the ‘lust murderer’, they
advanced a theory that lust murderers are mainly catergorised by two types: - Organised
and disorganised. This is an example of a top-down typology.
• An organised offender leads an ordered life and kills after some sort of critical life event.
Their actions are premeditated and planned, they are likely to bring weapons and restraints
to the scene. They are likely to be of average to high intelligence and employed.
• A disorganised offender is more likely to have committed the crime in a moment of
passion. There will be no evidence of premeditation and they are more likely to leave
evidence such as blood, semen, murder weapon etc. behind. This type of offender is
thought to be less socially competent and more likely to be unemployed.
• There are four main stages in constructing an FBI profile: data assimilation, crime scene
classification, crime reconstruction, profile generation.
Briefly explain the difference
between the two methods:
Sort the characteristics and behaviours into your predictions for organised and disorganised
Predict how the crimes in the images took place and whether the killer was organised or
disorganised. Justify your predictions
The following exercise is taken from Howitt (2002) and is based on a case originally
reported by Ressler et al (1988). Given the evidence provided below, your task is to draw up
a profile of the offender.
A nude female's body was found at 3.00pm on the roof of an apartment block where she
She had left home for work at 6.30 in the morning.
She was 26 years of age, 90 lbs in weight, her spine was deformed and she was not dating
Both of her nipples had been removed and placed upon her body.
Her face was severely beaten.
She had been throttled with the strap of her bag.
A blunt instrument had caused many facial injuries.
Virtually all items used came from the victim’s bag.
The phrase "You can't stop me" was written in ink on the inner thigh and "Fuck you" on the
The pendant she usually wore was missing.
The victim’s underwear had been taken down and pulled over her face.
Her stockings were tied around her ankles and wrists but very loosely.
A pen and an umbrella were inserted into her vagina.
A comb was stuck in her pubic hair.
There was no semen in the victim’s vagina. The offender had ejaculated over her body from
a standing position.
There were bite marks on her thighs and various bruises/lacerations all over.
Faeces from the murderer were very close by. They were covered with the victim’s clothes.
There was no evidence of similar crimes being carried out in the area.
From the above evidence construct a profile of the murderer. Try to be systematic in the
way you analyse and use the evidence. Use the four stages in FBI profiling.
The Bottom-up approach.
Examples of bottom-up
1. Investigative psychology
• The bottom-up approach is the British approach
to profiling, most closely associated with David
• It is where a profile of the offender (the likely
characteristics, routine behaviour and social
background) is generated by making inferences
from systematic analysis of evidence at the
crime scene using knowledge of psychological
theories and statistical analysis.
Therefore, the profile is ‘data-driven’ and
emerges as the investigator engages in deeper
and more rigorous scrutiny of the offence.
This is a form of bottom-up profiling developed by Canter that matches details from the crime
with statistical analysis of typical offender behaviour patterns based on psychological theory.
Crime scene evidence is analysed on the basis of psychological theory and evidence. The main
features of this approach are:
Interpersonal coherence – the way an offender behaves at the scene, including their
interactions with the victim may reflect their behaviour in more everyday situations as
people are consistent in their behaviour. E.g. some rapists seek maximum control and
humiliate their victims whilst others are more apologetic. This may tell the police something
about how they relate to women more generally.
Significance of time and place – these may give indications about where the offender
Forensic awareness – this focuses on individuals who may have been the subject of police
interrogation before; their behaviour may denote how mindful they are of ‘covering their
tracks.’ E.g. if they have cleaned up the crime scene this might suggest that they have
committed a crime before and been through the criminal justice system.
Statistical procedures are then applied. A statistical ‘database’ in which patterns of behaviour that
are likely to occur or co-occur across crime scenes acts as a baseline for comparison. Specific
details from the crime scene are matched against the database to reveal important details about
the offender, their personal history, family background etc. This may also determine whether a
series of offences are likely to have been committed by the same person. From the statistical
analysis based on psychological theory, hypotheses of the probable characteristics of the offender
are generated. Therefore, it is a data-driven/evidence-based approach.
Applying investigative psychology
The murder victims
1. Alison Day, killed on 29th
December 1985. She was going to where her boyfriend worked.
She was attacked near Hackney Wick railway station. Her hands were tied and there was
evidence that she was strangled. She was knocked unconscious before the attack. She was
found 17 days after the attack in a canal that ran beside the station. Her pockets were filled
2. Maartje Tamboezer was attacked and murdered on 17th
April 1986. She had been riding her
bike to a sweet shop in Surrey. She was knocked off her bike and dragged to the side of the
road. A length of fishing wire was found tied between two bushes near her body, which
could have been used to knock her from her bike. She had been tied and strangled. Her
hands were tied behind her back. The attacker attempted to burn her body.
3. Anne Lock was attacked and killed on 18th
May 1986. She had finished her working day at
Weekend Television in London. Her attacker approached her after she left the train station,
as she was unlocking her bike. Her hands were tied behind her back and she was
The facts of the case
26 sex attacks between 1982 and 1986.
Three murders between 1985 and 1986.
All the offences were committed against young women.
All the offences were committed in and around London, near railway stations.
There was a pause in crimes between October 1982 and January 1984.
The female victims were approached near railway stations.
The man attempted to talk to the women before attacking them.
They were then forced to a side street, track or alley where the public could not see them.
Most of the women reported that the man used a knife and their hands were restrained
with a rope or tie or an article of clothing worn by the victim.
The attacker still talked to the women throughout the attack in an attempt to form a
After the attack the man cleaned the victim to try to remove any physical evidence.
2. Geographical profiling
This is a form of bottom-up profiling first described by Rossomo (1997) which involves the study of
spatial behaviour in relation to crime and offenders.
It is based on the principle of spatial consistency – that an offender’s operational base and
possible future offences are revealed by the geographical location of their previous crimes.
Therefore, the location of linked crimes, local crime statistics, local transport and the geographical
spread of similar crimes are used to make inferences about the likely home or operational base,
workplace and social hangouts of the offender. This is known as crime mapping.
The assumption is that serial killers will restrict their ‘work’ to areas they are familiar with, and so
understanding the spatial pattern of their behaviour provides investigators with a ‘centre of gravity’
which is likely to include the offender’s base (often in the centre of the spatial pattern).
Circle theory proposes two models of offender behaviour. People operate within a limited spatial
mind set that creates imagined boundaries in which crimes are likely to be committed (usually
forming a circle).
The Marauder: the offender operates in close proximity to their home base.
The Commuters: the offender is likely to have travelled a distance away from their usual residence.
Applying the bottom-up approach
All 7 victims were attacked outdoors, while walking alone, near their residence during the hours of darkness.
There are observable similarities in that the victims are white females 15-21 years of age, ranging from 5’1”
and 95 pounds to 5’3” and 135 pounds. Six out of seven living in the Scarborough (USA) area and three of
those living in extremely close proximity to one another.
The six victims in Scarborough were all approachedfrom behind. Upon contact he forces them face down
into the ground and demands they keep their eyes closed to ensure they do not see him.
The victim in Mississauga was approached in a slightly different manner. After following her for a distance
on foot, he approached her under the guise of asking directions. This approach allowed the victim to see
his face, but was short in duration as the offender did not finish his first sentence before physically
assaulting her and forcing her face down to the ground.
He gained control over all the victims by the immediate application of injurious physical force. He
maintained control of the victims through the use of physical force and verbal threats of bodily harm and or
death, all of which were often accomplished whilebrandishing a knife in a threatening and intimidating
In his interactions with the victims there are several noteworthy behaviours. He tries to script their verbal
behaviour “Tell me you hate your boyfriend and you love me.” “Tell me you love me, tell me it feels good”,
“Tell me you are a stupid bitch” and much worse. He is extremely aggressive physically and verbally.
With the 6th
victim he broke her collarbone and rubbed dirt on her hair and face. While he was accosting
the victim and attempting to gain control over her, a car pulls out of a driveway a few inches away and
drives by them. He does not panic, but forces the victim into some bushes near a house and continues to
assault her. He keeps items of clothing. He asked the seventh victim, “should I kill you?”, thereby making her
beg for her life.
approach - point
Example/evidence Explanation and link to the question
approach is arguably
more objective and
scientific than the
David Canter’s profile of the Railway Killer led to police interest in the method.
Copson (1995) surveyed 48 UK police forces using investigative psychology and
found that over 75% of the police officers questioned said that the profilers’ advice
had been useful. However, only 3% said that the advice had helped to identify the
This suggests that the method may not be that useful in
actually catching offenders, but that the slight benefit it
affords makes it worthwhile.
There is research
support for the
Lundrigan and Canter (2001) collated information from 120 murder cases
involving serial killers in the USA. Statistical analysis revealed spatial consistency
in the behaviour of killers. The location of each body disposal site was in a
different direction from the previous, creating a ‘centre of gravity’; the offender’s
base was inevitably in the centre of the pattern. This effect was more noticeable
This suggests that the bottom-up approach is more
systematic than the top-down approach, and supports its
utility in all aspects of the judicial process.
There is evidence to
In 1992, Rachel Nickell was stabbed 47 times and sexually assaulted on
Wimbledon Common. The investigation targeted Colin Stagg and the police
instigated a ‘honey trap.’ When the case came to court, it was thrown out as the
only link between Stagg and Nickell was the profile and the undercover operation.
In 2008, Robert Napper was convicted of Nickell’s murder. He was initially ruled
out of the enquiry because he was several inches taller than the profile. Kocsis et
al. (2002) found that chemistry students produced a more accurate profile on a
solved murder case than experienced senior detectives.
In contrast, the top-down approach is best suited to crimes
that reveal important details about the suspect such as
rape, arson and cult killings, as well as crimes that involve
practices such as sadistic torture, dissection of the body or
acting out fantasies. More common offences such as
burglary and destruction of property, or even murder or
assault whilst in the course of committing these) do not lend
themselves to profiling because the resulting crime reveals
very little about the offender. This suggests that the bottom-
up approach has wider applications as it can be applied to a
great range of crimes.
approach can be
applied to a wide
range of offences.
Statistical analysis and the principle of spatial consistency can be used to
investigate crimes such as burglary and theft as well as more serious crimes such
as murder and rape.
As such, it is questionable as to how much more it offers
than the traditional method of police placing pins on a map
to see where a group of crimes were committed.
There have been
significant failures of
It is more grounded in psychological theory and evidence, and less driven by
speculation and hunches. Investigators are able to manipulate geographical,
biographical and psychological data quickly to produce insights and results that
aid investigations. The field of investigative psychology has expanded to include
suspect interviewing and examination of the material presented in court.
Taken overall, this suggests that what profiling can’t reliably
do is identify an offender. It can assist the police in
narrowing down the field of possibilities, but the big danger
lies in sticking too closely to any one profile.
profiling has its
It cannot distinguish between multiple offenders in the same area, and also the
method is limited to spatial behaviour (not any personality characteristics).
This supports Canter’s claim that spatial information is a
key factor in determining the base of an offender and
therefore the utility of the bottom-up approach.
Biological explanations ofoffending behaviour
1. Applying the atavistic form
1. Which atavistic characteristics can you identify in each offender?
2. How does this support or challenge Lombroso’s explanation?
3. Identify as many of the famous offenders as you can and explain their crimes.
4. How do you think Lombroso developed the ideas about atavistic characteristics?
Evaluating atavistic form +/- supporting
What this tells us about atavistic form
Several critics have drawn attention to the distinct racial undertones
within Lombroso’s work. Many of the features identified by
Lombroso as atavistic and criminal, such as curly hair and dark
skin, are most likely to be found among people of African descent.
Similarly, his description of the atavistic as uncivilised, primitive and
savage would lend support to the eugenic philosophies at the time
that those of African descent are genetically unfit to breed.
Whether Lombroso intended this to be the case or not is a matter of debate;
though there is little doubt that the theory gave scientific credence to racist
policies at the time which continues to overshadow criminology.
In 1893, Lombroso set out his ideas about female criminality. He
believed that women were less evolved than men. They were
naturally jealous and insensitive to pain, but they were also passive,
low in intelligence and had a maternal instinct – all of which
neutralised their negative traits and meant they were less likely to
become criminals. Those women who did become criminals had
masculine characteristics that were beneficial in a man but in a
woman created a ‘monster.’
These are outlandish androcentric ideas about women which were even
more inexcusable because Lombroso never studied women directly. This is
reflective of typical 19th century views about women. It suggests that the
theory of atavistic form misrepresented the behaviour of women and failed
to challenge negative stereotypes about women. Consequently, the theory
lacks temporal validity as such ideas are not supported in modern society.
Goring (1913) compared 3000 criminals and 3000 non-criminals
and concluded that there was no evidence that are offenders are a
distinct group with unusual facial and cranial characteristics, but
many criminals did tend to have lower intelligence.
The finding about intelligence offers some limited support for Lombroso’s
argument that criminals are a ‘sub-species’, but the results as a whole
question the key element of his theory that criminals are different in terms of
Lombroso is credited as shifting the emphasis in crime research
away from moralistic discourse (where offenders were judged as
being wicked and weak-minded) towards a more scientific and
credible realm (that of evolutionary influences and genetics).
Additionally, in trying to describe how different types of people are
likely to commit different types of crime, his theory heralded the
beginning of offender profiling.
Therefore, Lombroso and his theory made a major contribution to the
science of criminology. By emphasising the importance of research
evidence, Lombroso was influential in the development of criminology as a
scientific discipline, giving it greater credibility and status.
Lombroso did not compare his criminal sample with a control group.
If Lombroso had done this, his significant differences may have
disappeared. He also failed to take into account other important
variables which may have confounded the results e.g. history of
Therefore, the theory is based on flimsy evidence that lacks objectivity.
Consequently, the research may not have been a solid foundation for theory
construction, implying that the atavistic form theory may be flawed.
Even if there are criminals who do have some of the atavistic
elements in their facial features, this does not necessarily mean this
is the cause of their offending. Facial and cranial differences may
be influenced by other factors, such as poverty or poor diet, rather
than being an indication of delayed evolutionary development.
This suggests that from the research, we cannot determine cause and
effect and so cannot strongly support the internal validity of the atavistic
form theory. Lombroso himself eventually even took a less extreme stance;
he acknowledged that criminals could be made as well as born due to a
range of environmental factors. This further undermines the validity of the
atavistic form theory as it doesn’t seem to be a complete explanation of
Preparation for the lesson on genetic and neural explanations of offending behaviour
Prepare for the lesson on genetic and neural explanations of offending behaviour:
1. Watch this TED talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u2V0vOFexY4
2. From the video:
1. Which area of the brain seems to be damaged in psychopathic offenders?
2. Which gene is thought to be linked to crime?
3. How is it thought to be linked to crime?
4. What is the ‘recipe for disaster’?
Biological explanations of offending behaviour:
genetic and neural explanations
Genetic explanations suggest that offenders inherit a gene, or combination of genes, that
predisposes them to commit crime. ‘Criminal’ genes are transmitted from parent to child.
The activity of two particular genes (MAOA and CDH13) have been implicated in offending
Neural explanations suggest that offenders commit crime because of dysfunctions of the
brain and nervous system. This includes the activity of brain structures and
1. What result would they
expect if offending behaviour
2. What are the problems with
1. What evidence is there to support that genes are involved in causing offending behaviour?
2. What evidence is there to support that genes are not the only factors involved in causing
3. What other factors might be involved in causing offending behaviour?
How does the prefrontal cortex impact on criminal behaviour?
How does the amygdala impact on criminal behaviour?
What are the ethical implications of this research?
Prepare for the lesson on Eysenck’s theory:
1. Complete the Eysenck personality questionnaire:
2. Go back to the original page after you’ve got your score and see if you agree with the type
of personality that you have been assigned. Bring your results to class (take a photo, print it
or write it out).
3. How do you think this links to criminality?
4. Definitions of: extraversion, neuroticism, psychoticism.
Adrian Raine: The Anatomy of
Evaluating genetic and neural explanations of offending behaviour +/- supporting ev Explanation and link to the question
Early twin studies such as Lange’s research were poorlycontrolled and
judgements related to zygosity (i.e. whether the twins were MZ or DZ)
were based on appearance rather than DNA testing.Furthermore,MZ
twins often share a more similar environmentthan DZtwins as they are
typically treated more similarlyby adults and peers.This acts as a
Therefore, from the research,it is not possible to separate the effects of genes and the
environmentand so the research cannotstronglysupportthe genetic explanation of
offending behaviour.The fact that concordance rates are never 100% suggests that
whilstgenetics mayplay an importantrole in offending behaviour,it cannot be
considered the sole causal factor as non-genetic environmental factors mustalso playa
Criminalityis complex,and explanations thatreduce offending behaviour
to a genetic or neural level may be inappropriate and overly simplistic.
Whilstcrime does appear to run in families,so do emotional instability,
mental illness,social deprivation and poverty. This makes itdifficult to
disentangle the effects of genes and neural influences from other possible
factors. Additionally, whilstthere is often a difference in concordance rates
between MZ and DZ twins,MZ twins do not show 100% concordance.
This suggests thatthe genetic explanations particularlyare guilty of biological
reductionism as the fact that concordance rates are never 100% suggests thatwhilst
genetics mayplay an importantrole in offending behaviour,it cannotbe considered the
sole causal factor as non-genetic environmental factors mustalso playa significantrole.
The notion of a criminal gene presents an ethical dilemma.Our legal
system is based on the premise thatcriminals have personal and moral
responsibilityfor their crimes.Only in extreme cases,such as a diagnosis
of mental illness,can someone claim theywere not acting of their own free
will.The Mobley case raised questions as to whether the individual’s
genetic make-up could be used as a defence in criminal cases.
This biological determinism presents an ethical dilemma because bytaking the stance
that the offender has no responsibilityfor their actions could cause significant
psychological harm to their victims and have implications for treating offender behaviour.
Cruciallyhowever, the judge and jury in Mobley’s case were not convinced by the claim,
which supports thatlegally,free will is considered importantin offending behaviour.The
evidence of MZ twins not showing 100% concordance further supports this suggestion.
This therefore undermines the utility of biological explanations in legal contexts.
Although, the law does ask the question aboutwhether the cause of behaviour is outside
a person’s control.At the very least,it may be harder for some people to avoid criminal
violence due to both their biology and environment,so a deterministview cannot be
totally ruled out.
One issue with neural explanations is whether abnormalities in regions of
the brain or levels of neurotransmitters are the cause of offending
behaviour,the resultof it or justan intervening variable.Research only
highlights a correlation between activity of the prefrontal cortex and
criminality.Therefore, offending behaviour may reduce the activity of the
Therefore, the research cannotprovide strong supportfor the internal validity of the
neural explanations as cause and effectcannotbe determined.
Neural explanations could lead to potential methods oftreatment.For
example,if low serotonin caused increased aggressiveness in criminals,
people in prison could be given diets than enhance serotonin levels and
hopefullydecrease their aggression.
This supports the external validity of the neural explanations as theyhave the potentially
for utility in reducing offending behaviour.
Most of the genetic and neural research relates to the association between
these factors and violent or aggressive crimes.However,offending
behaviour also includes theft,fraud, drug use and bigamy– all non-violent
Biological explanations mayjustaccountfor certain types of crimes such as those
involving violence and psychopathy and so not be entirely externally valid.
Psychological explanations of offending behaviour: Eysenck’s theory
of the criminal personality
Eysenck’s proposed that offending behaviour is caused by having a criminal personality
(psychological). He suggested that personality could be represented along two dimensions:
introversion/extraversion and neuroticism/stability. He later added a third: psychoticism/normality.
These dimensions combine to form a variety of personality characteristics or traits.
Eysenck suggested that the criminal personality type is the neurotic-extravert i.e. they score
highly on measures of neuroticism (unstable and overly anxious and nervous) and extraversion
(sensation-seeking and outgoing). Additionally, offenders will score highly on measures of
psychoticism – cold and unfeeling and prone to aggression. This is measured using the Eysenck
Personality Inventory (EPI). A later scale was introduced to measure psychoticism.
Eysenck argued that the link between the criminal personality type and offending behaviour could
be explained in terms of physiological arousal. The criminal personality type is biological in origin
(i.e. has an innate, biological basis) and comes about through the type of nervous system we
inherit i.e. the type of nervous system that predisposes us to offend is inherited:
Extraverts have a chronically under-aroused nervous system, meaning they constantly
seek excitement, stimulation and are likely to engage in risk-taking and dangerous
behaviours, which may explain some offending behaviour.
Neurotic individuals have more reactive sympathetic nervous systems (i.e. greater
responses to threat). They are unstable and so react easily and get upset quickly. They may
therefore overreact to situations of threat, explaining some offending behaviour.
Psychotics can easily be linked to offending behaviour as they are aggressive and lack
Eysenck also suggested that innate, biological determined personality is linked to offending
behaviour via socialisation. The process of socialisation is one in which children are taught to
become more able to delay gratification and become more socially oriented through conditioning
– they are punished for anti-social behaviours and so even thinking about them creates anxiety.
Eysenck viewed offending behaviour as developmentally immature, in that it is selfish and
concerned with immediate gratification. He suggested that people with high extraversion and
neuroticism had nervous systems that made them difficult to condition. Therefore, they do not
easily learn to respond to antisocial impulses with anxiety. Consequently, they would be more
likely to act in antisocial, and potentially criminal, ways.
Sort the characteristics into neuroticism, extraversion and psychoticism using a colour code.
Define neuroticism, extraversion and psychoticism.
What is personality? Which personality traits do you think offenders are likely to have?
Justify your decisions.
Why might your results be inaccurate?
The Joker Charles Manson
Identify where on the dimensions of psychoticism, extraversion and neuroticism the
Joker and Charles Manson would be. Justify your decisions with examples.
Based on your decisions and Eysenck’s theory, why did they become offenders?
Predict the physiological arousal link between the criminal personality type and offending
The role of socialisation: video notes:
1. What do you think socialisation is?
2. How do you think socialisation is linked to everything else we’ve learned exactly?
3. Imagine that the children ate the marshmallows and then their parents told them off.
According to behaviourism, what should happen?
4. Using your knowledge of the nervous systems of people with the criminal personality, how
and why might this be different for people with the criminal personality (think about
Evaluating Eysenck’s theory of the criminal personality Strength or weakness?
What this tells us about Eysenck’s theory
Eysenck and Eysenck (1977) compared 2070 male prisoners’
scores on the EPI with 2422 male controls. On measures of
psychoticism, extraversion and neuroticism (across age groups),
prisoners recorded higher scores than controls.
This supports the predictions of the theory that criminals have
higher scores on measures of the criminal personality,
suggesting that the theory has some validity.
Farrington et al. (1982) reviewed several studies and found that
offenders tended to score high on psychoticism measures, but not
for extraversion or neuroticism. They also found little evidence of
consistent evidence in EEG measures (used to measure cortical
arousal) between extraverts and introverts.
This casts doubt on the physiological basis of Eysenck’s theory
and also implies that extraversion and neuroticism may not be
typical characteristics of many criminals and therefore the
theory may not be externally valid.
The idea that all offending behaviour can be explained by a single
personality type has been heavily criticised. For example, Digman’s
(1990) Five Factor Model of personality suggests that alongside
extraversion and neuroticism, there are additional dimensions of
openness, agreeableness and conscientiousness.
From this perspective, multiple combinations are available and
therefore a high extraversion and neuroticism score does not
mean offending is inevitable.
Bartol and Holanchock (1979) studied Hispanic and African-
American offenders in a maximum security prison in New York and
divided these into six groups based on their criminal history and the
nature of their offences. It was found that all six groups were less
extravert than a non-criminal control group.
The researchers suggested that this was because their sample
was a very different cultural group than that investigated by
Eysenck. This questions the generalisability of the criminal
The theory assumes that personality is consistent (i.e. the person is
the same all of the time). However, a number of psychologists
support a situational perspective, suggesting that people may be
consistent in similar situations (e.g. calm at home) but not across
situations (e.g. calm at home but neurotic at work). Supporting this,
Mischel and Peake (1982) asked family, friends and strangers to
rate 63 students in a variety of situations and found almost no
correlation between traits displayed.
This means that the notion of a criminal personality is flaws as
people don’t simply have ‘one’ personality.
The score or label given to any person depends on the answers
they provide on a personality questionnaire such as the EPI. The
traits may apply to them, but their answers may not reflect reality.
For example, when asked ‘are you lively?’, most people may
answer ‘sometimes’ but have to choose between ‘yes’ and ‘no’ and
so may choose the most socially desirable answer and so their
answers are not entirely truthful.
However, this is countered by the use of lie scales such as ‘are
all of your habits good and desirable?’ People who answer
‘yes’ to many of these questions are deemed ‘dishonest’ and
answering in a socially desirable way and so their data is
discarded. This suggests that personality questionnaires may
validly measure personality and so be useful in the
measurement of the criminal personality, but that results
should be treated with caution as it may be possible to answer
in socially desirable and therefore dishonest ways without
being detected by the lie scales.
Preparation for the lesson on cognitive explanations of offending behaviour
Prepare for the lesson on the cognitive explanations of offending behaviour:
1. Watch this video on the Columbine High School shooting -
2. Using each of the explanations that we have covered so far (atavistic form, genetic and
neural explanations and Eysenck’s theory), explain why Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold
became offenders. Include examples from the video where possible to support your ideas.
3. What other factors may have contributed to their offending behaviour? How?
4. Which explanation do you think is the best explanation of their behaviour? Justify your
Psychological explanations of offending behaviour: cognitive explanations
Cognitive distortions are faulty, biased and irrational ways of thinking that mean we perceive
ourselves, other people and/or the world in a way that does not match reality and is usually
negative. Therefore, a person’s perception of events is wrong, but they think it is accurate. In the
context of offending behaviour, such distortions allow an offender to deny (to reduce negative
emotions) or rationalise (justify) their criminal behaviour.
Which is showing the angry expression?
There are two examples of cognitive distortions which are particularly relevant to crime:
◦ Hostile attribution bias
◦ Minimalisation (or minimisation)
How do you think this could be a cognitive distortion of offenders?
How might this be used to rationalise (justify/explain) their offending behaviour?
Hostile attribution bias
Hostile attribution bias is the tendency to misinterpret or misread other people’s actions,
words and/or expressions as aggressive, provocative and/or threatening when in reality they are
not. Offenders may misread non-aggressive cues, e.g. being ‘looked at’, which may trigger a
disproportionate and often violent response (e.g. assault). This allows offenders to rationalise their
offending behaviour by blaming other factors for it e.g. blaming the victim.
Minimalisation is the attempt to downplay the seriousness (or trivialising the importance) of
one’s own offence to explain the consequences as less significant or damaging than they really
are. This helps the individual to accept the consequences of their own offences and reduce the
negative emotions such as guilt associated with their crimes. For example, when planning a crime,
a burglar might think that stealing a few things from a wealthy family ‘won’t really affect their
lives’, or that they are ‘supporting their family’ or ‘doing a job’.
When questioned by police, Max claimed he punched the man in the bar because “he looked at
me funny.” In court, defending his actions – Max told the judge that the man he punched “wasn’t
even hurt that bad” and “what was I supposed to do? I was just taking care of business.”
Using your knowledge of cognitive distortions, explain Max’s offending behaviour (4 marks)
The Heinz Dilemma
How is Robin showing examples of cognitive distortions?
How might he use them to rationalise or deny his offending
Create potential examples of this type of cognitive distortion
for other crimes
As the interviewee, read the Heinz dilemma. Then answer the interviewer’s questions.
In Europe, a woman was near death from a rare type of cancer. There was one drug that the
doctors thought might save her. It was a form of radium that a druggist in the same town had
recently discovered. The drug was expensive to make but the druggist was charging 10 times what
the drug cost him to make. He paid $400 for the radium and charged $4000 for a small dose of it.
The sick woman’s husband, Heinz, went to everyone he knew to borrow the money, but he could
only get together about $2000 which is half of what it cost. He told the druggist that his wife was
dying and asked him to sell it cheaper or let him pay later. But the druggist said ‘No. I discovered
the drug and I’m going to make money from it.’ Heinz got desperate and broke into the man’s
store to steal the drug for his wife.
The Heinz Dilemma
As the interviewer, instruct your interviewee to read the Heinz dilemma. Then read the following:
‘I am now going to ask you a series of questions. Please answer honestly; your results will remain
confidential.’ Make sure you record your interviewee’s responses
1. Should Heinz steal the drug?
2. Why or why not?
3. (if the interviewee favours stealing): If Heinz doesn’t love his wife, should he steal the drug
4. Does it make a difference whether or not he loves his wife?
5. Why or why not?
6. Suppose the person dying is not his wife but a stranger. Should Heinz steal the drug for the
7. Why or why not?
Kohlberg’s theory of moral reasoning
Moral reasoning refers to how an individual draws on their own value system to determine whether an
action is right or wrong.
Kohlberg suggested that people’s decisions and judgements on issues of right or wrong can be
summarised in a stage theory of moral development – the higher the stage, the more sophisticated the
moral reasoning, which results in a more logically consistent and morally mature form of understanding.
People progress through he stages as a consequence of biological maturity and by having opportunities
to discuss and develop their thinking (e.g. perspective taking).
The theory was developed by interviewing boys and men about the reasons for moral decisions. The theory
has three levels, and there are two stages within each stage.
Level Stage Definition
Criminal offenders are more likely to be classified at the pre-conventional level whereas non-criminals are
more likely to have progressed to the conventional level and beyond.
The pre-conventional level is characterised by a need to avoid punishment (punishment orientation) and
gain rewards (reward orientation), and is associated with less mature, child-like reasoning. Individuals at
this level may commit crime if they can get away with it (avoid punishment) or gain rewards in the form of
money, respect etc. because they believe that breaking the law is justified if the rewards outweigh the
costs or if punishment can be avoided.
Exam style questions
1. Outline one cognitive distortion shown by offenders who attempt to justify their crime. (2
2. Explain how levels of moral reasoning can be used to explain offending behaviour (4 marks)
3. Plan: Describe and evaluate cognitive explanations for offending (16 marks)
4. Challenge: how would your gold plan be different for: Discuss cognitive explanations of
offending. Refer to at least one other explanation of offending in your answer (16 marks)
Outline cognitive explanations of offending (6 marks)
Evidence/example Explanation and link to the question
There is research evidence to
support Kohlberg’s theory of
Palmer and Hollin (1998) compared moral reasoning between 210
female non-offenders, 122 male non-offenders and 126 convicted
offenders using 11 moral dilemma-related questions. The
delinquent group showed less mature moral reasoning than the
This is consistent with the predictions of minimalisation by
enabling the offenders to accept the consequences of their
behaviour and reduce negative emotions such as guilt,
supporting the theory.
Understanding the nature of
cognitive distortions is beneficial
in the treatment of offending
They are essentially ‘after the fact’ theories, and although they may
be useful when predicting reoffending, they tend not to give us
much insight into why the offender committed the crime in the first
This supports that cognitive explanations have important
real-world applications and therefore external validity. If by
changing offenders’ thoughts it can help to reduce
reoffending risk, it implies that cognitive distortions may
have played a role in their offending initially.
The cognitive explanations are
more descriptions of the criminal
Schonenberg and Justye (2014) presented 55 violent offenders
with images of emotionally ambiguous expressions. When
compared with matched control ‘normal’ participants, the violent
offenders were significantly more likely to perceive the images as
angry and hostile.
This suggests that such misinterpretations of non-verbal
cues may at least partly explain aggressive-impulsive
behaviour in susceptible individuals and so supports the
validity of cognitive distortions as an explanation of
There is research evidence to
support hostile attribution bias.
The dominant approach in rehabilitating sex offenders is cognitive
behavioural therapy (CBT) which encourages offenders to ‘face up’
to what they have done and establish a less distorted view of their
actions. Studies suggest that reduced incidence of denial and
minimalisation in therapy is highly correlated with a reduced risk of
reoffending, and this is a key feature of anger management.
This is consistent with Kohlberg’s predictions about
offenders being classified at the pre-conventional level of
moral reasoning, supporting his theory. It has been
suggested that this may be due to a lack of role playing
opportunities in childhood, and therefore such
opportunities should be provided.
There is research evidence to
When Kohlberg studied women, he found that they were less
morally developed than men. His beta bias meant that he ended up
exaggerating the differences between men and women (alpha
This suggests that the theories may not be entirely
internally valid as cause and effect cannot be established.
Kohlberg’s theory was only based
on samples of men and boys and
yet assumed to apply to all people
Barbaree (1991) found that among 26 incarcerated rapists, 54%
denied having committed an offence at all, and a further 40%
minimised the harm they had caused to the victim. Similarly,
Pollock and Hashmall (1991) reported that 35% of a sample of
child molesters argued that the crime they had committed was non-
sexual (they were ‘being affectionate’) and 36% stated that the
victim had consented.
Gilligan’s (1982) research found that men favoured a
justice orientation whilst women favoured a caring
orientation. Neither is ‘better’, they are just different. As
such, Kohlberg’s theory cannot be considered an
externally valid theory of offending behaviour as it may not
apply to women in the same way as men.
Preparation for the lesson on differential association theory
Prepare for the lesson on differential association theory. You need:
The definition of: differential association theory (you need to go beyond the key terms list
Identify whether this theory takes the nature or nurture side of the nature-nurture debate.
Differential association theory is based on the idea that pro-criminal attitudes and
offending behaviour are learned. Using your knowledge of behaviourism and social learning
theory, explain how pro-criminal attitudes and offending behaviour may be learned.
Differential Association Theory
Information gathering task notes:
Applying differential association theory
Growing up Gary was generally considered to be a good boy. He came from a stable background
with supportive parents and always performed well at school. Since turning 15, Gary has started to
hang out with a new group of friends. Locally the group has a reputation for being the “wrong
crowd.” Despite being told to stay away from these lads by his parents and former friends, Gary
continues to hang out with them. He spends the vast majority of his time with them listening to
their views on how the police are pointless and that laws are made to be broken. Last week he was
arrested for trying to steal a car - his first offence.
Using your knowledge of differential association theory, explain why Gary may have
offended (6 marks)
Evaluating differential association theory Strength or weakness?
Supporting or undermining
What this tells us about differential association
Differential association theory can account for crime within all sectors of
society. Some types of crime, such as burglary might be clustered within
certain inner-city, working-class communities, others are more prevalent
amongst more affluent groups in society. Sutherland was particularly
interested in ‘white-collar’ or corporate crime and how this may be a feature
of middle-class social groups who share deviant norms and values.
This supports the external validity of the theory as it
account for differences in crime within different
sections of society and why crime may differ across
Differential association theory draws attention to the fact that dysfunctional
social circumstances and environments may be more to blame for
criminality than dysfunctional people, as was advocated by atavistic form.
The theory marked an important shift from ‘blaming’ individual factors to
pointing to social factors.
This approach is more desirable because it offers a
more realistic solution to the problem of crime
(because learning environments can be changed)
instead of eugenics.
Osborne and West (1979) found that where there is a father with a criminal
conviction, 40% of sons had committed a crime by the age of 18, compared
to 13% of sons of non-criminal fathers.
Akers et al. (1979) surveyed 2500 adolescents in the US and found that the
most important influences on drink and drug behaviour was from peers.
Differential association, differential reinforcement and imitation combined to
account for 68% of the variance in marijuana use and 55% of alcohol use.
These studies are consistent with the predictions of
differential association theory that offending
behaviour is learned through associations and
interactions with others who have less favourable
attitudes towards crime.
The data from the supportive evidence is correlational. It may be that
offenders seek out other offenders rather than being influenced by them.
Additionally, Osborne and West’s results could just as easily be explained
by genetics as differential association.
This means that from the research we can’t strongly
support the internal validity of differential association
theory as cause and effect cannot be determined.
There is a danger within differential association theory of stereotyping
individuals who come from impoverished, crime-ridden backgrounds as
‘unavoidably criminal.’ The theory tends to suggest that exposure to pro-
criminal values is sufficient to produce offending in those who are exposed.
This is an example of environmental determinism as it
ignores the fact that people may choose not to offend
despite such influences. Therefore, crime must be
considered on an individual, case-by-case basis to
avoid such stereotyping.
Preparation for the lesson on psychodynamic explanations of offending behaviour
Prepare for the lesson on psychodynamic explanations of offending behaviour. You need to:
Revise the tripartite structure of the personality, the psychosexual stages of development
and the assumptions of the psychodynamic approach
Revise maternal deprivation theory from attachment, including Bowlby’s 44 thieves study.
There will be a no-notes quiz at the beginning of the lesson, so make sure you have revised!
Challenge: how do you think these theories relate to crime?
Psychodynamic explanations of crime
Whilst Freud didn’t address offending behaviour himself, other researchers have attempted to
some of his key concepts to offending.
Psychodynamic explanations are a group of theories influenced by the work of Freud which share
the belief that unconscious conflicts (innate drives), rooted in early childhood and determined
by interactions with parents drive future offending behaviour.
Two psychodynamic explanations of crime are:
The inadequate superego
Maternal deprivation theory
The inadequate superego
The superego is formed at the end of the phallic stage of psychosexual development when
children resolve the Oedipus/Electra complex. Children internalise the superego of the same-sex
It works on the morality principle and exerts its influence by punishing the ego through guilt for
wrongdoing, whilst rewarding it with pride for moral behaviour.
Blackburn (1993) argued that if the superego is somehow deficient or inadequate then
offending behaviour is inevitable because the id is given ‘free rein’ and isn’t properly controlled.
Three types of inadequate superego have been proposed: weak/underdeveloped superego, the
deviant superego and the over-harsh/overdeveloped superego
Using the names of each one and what you know about the psychodynamic approach, predict
how each type of inadequate superego may be related to offending behaviour.
The weak/underdeveloped superego
If the same-sex parent is absent during the phallic stage, the child cannot internalise a
fully-formed superego as there is no opportunity for identification. I.e. the superego is
This would make offending behaviour more likely because they have little control over
anti-social behaviour and is likely to act in ways that gratify their instinctual id impulses.
The deviant superego
If the superego that the child internalises has immoral or deviant values (e.g. a child with a
criminal parent), this would lead to offending behaviour because the child may not
associate wrongdoing with guilt.
The over-harsh/overdeveloped superego
A child may internalise the superego of a very strict same-sex parent.
Therefore, they develop an excessively harsh superego.
This means that the individual is crippled by guilt and anxiety most of the time because
any time the person acts on their id impulses, they would feel bad.
This may (unconsciously) drive the individual to offend with a wish to be caught in order to
satisfy the superego’s overwhelming need for punishment and reduce their feelings of
What have you learnt so far?
Gary’s parents are extremely strict, yet he is always in trouble with the local police.
Barry has never met his Dad; he left Barry’s mother before he was born.
Harry lives with his Dad, but Harry’s dad makes his ‘living’ as a burglar.
Identify the type of inadequate superego in each case.
Explain why each person became an offender using the types of inadequate superego.
Maternal deprivation theory recap
Bowlby (1944) argued that the ability to form meaningful adult relationships in
adulthood was dependent upon the child forming a warm, continuous relationship
with a mother-figure.
This relationship was seen as having special importance to the child’s well-being and
emotional development (monotropy).
If maternal deprivation (long-term separation or loss of emotional care from the
mother or mother-substitute) occurs during the critical period (around 2 ½ years),
then the child will experience a number of damaging and irreversible long-term
consequences later in life.
One of these is the development of the affectionless psychopathy personality type,
which is characterised by a lack of guilt, empathy or strong emotion for others and
Such individuals are likely to offend and cannot develop close relationships with others as
they lack the necessary early experience to do so
44 Thieves study:
1. What did Bowlby do and find in this study?
2. How does the study support maternal deprivation theory?
3. How is maternal deprivation theory a psychodynamic explanation of offending
4. Bowlby’s results are correlational. Why is this a problem when supporting the theory?
Give examples to support your idea.
1 = Procedure: They used a sample of 44 criminal teenagers who were accused of stealing. The
participants were interviewed for signs of affectionless psychopathy: characterised as a lack of
affection, lack of guilt about their actions and lack of empathy for their victims. Their families were
also interviewed to establish if there was prolonged early separation (deprivation) from their
mothers. A control group of 44 non-criminal teenagers, with emotional problems were all assessed
to see how often maternal deprivation occurred to the children who were not thieves.
Results: 14 out of the 44 thieves were affectionless psychopaths and 17 out of the 44 had
maternal separation. Of the 14 that were affectionless, 12 also had experienced prolonged
separation (deprivation) in the first two years of life. In the control group 2 out of the 44 had
maternal separation but 0 out of the 44 were categorised as affectionless psychopaths.
2 = suggests that the effects of maternal deprivation had caused affectionless and delinquent
behaviour among the juvenile thieves, supporting the predictions of maternal deprivation theory
3 = because it follows the Freudian principle that the roots of (criminal) behaviour are formed in
4= no cause and effect. Could be genetics or differential association that caused the offending. Or
could be character of the child (e.g. difficult child more likely to be put in care) or how family
discord may have caused both. Maternal deprivation is only one possibility but it may not be the
only problem or the most decisive. Therefore, from the research, we can’t strongly support the
internal validity of maternal deprivation theory as cause and effect cannot be determined.
explanations - point
Evidence/example Explanation and link to the question
According to Freud, women
should be more prone to criminal
behaviour than men, but this isn’t
All that is demonstrated is an association between separation and emotional
problems (affectionless psychopathy). There may be other variables that caused
affectionless psychopathy. For example, it may be genetic or a result of
differential association. Discord in the family home may have caused both of the
variables as the child may have been taken from the home for their safety, and
the discord may have caused them to become affectionless.
These suggestions contradict the predictions of
Blackburn’s types of inadequate superego,
implying that the explanation as a whole may not
be completely valid.
There is a lot of evidence to
undermine the inadequate
There is little evidence that children raised without a same-sex parent are less
law-abiding or fail to develop a conscience as adults. Additionally, if children are
raised by deviant parents and go on to be criminals themselves, this could be
due to genetics or socialisation rather than the formation of a deviant superego.
Furthermore, the idea that criminal behaviour reflects an unconscious desire for
punishment seems implausible as many criminals go to extreme lengths to avoid
Freud’s views represent an alpha bias –
exaggerating the differences between men and
women, and devaluing women. Therefore, his
psychodynamic explanation cannot be considered
to be entirely externally valid as it may not apply to
half of the population due to this bias.
suffer from a lack of falsifiability.
Freud proposed that women should develop a weaker superego than men
because they don’t identify as strongly with their same-sex parent as boys do.
This is partly due to the fact that resolution of the Electra complex is less
satisfactory and partly because Freud believed that there was little reason for
anyone to identify with a woman because of her lower status. However, statistics
of the male to female ratio of inmates in prison doesn’t support this. Additionally,
research has found hardly any evidence of gender differences in morality in
children, and where there was, girls tended to be more moral than boys.
Therefore, psychodynamic explanations are
pseudoscientific rather than scientific, and may
contribute little to our understanding of crime and
how to prevent it.
Counterargument suggestion: Bowlby’s 44
Bowbly’s 44 thieves study was
The many unconscious concepts mean that the explanations are not open to
empirical testing. In the absence of supporting evidence, arguments such as the
inadequate superego can only be judged on their face value rather than their
Consequently, maternal deprivation is only one of
the possible reasons for offending behaviour. It
may not be the only one or the most decisive.
Therefore from the research, we cannot strongly
support the internal validity of maternal deprivation
theory as cause and effect cannot be determined.
Applying the psychodynamic explanations of offending behaviour.
Jim spent the first 5 years of his life in a children’s home as his alcoholic parents were judged as
not fit to take care of him. Jim is now 15 and has very few close friends. His most recent school
report described him as ‘lacking empathy’ and his progress grades are among the lowest in his
class. Jim has been in trouble with the police for vandalising a bus shelter and stealing from the
Using your knowledge of psychodynamic explanations of offending behaviour, explain Jim’s
behaviour (8 marks)
Dealing with offending behaviour:
Deterrence – the unpleasant prison experience is designed to put off the individual
(individual deterrence), and society at large (general deterrence), from engaging in
offending behaviour. Individual deterrence is based on punishment from operant
conditioning and general deterrence is based on vicarious punishment from SLT.
Incapacitation – the offender is taken out of society to prevent them from reoffending in
order to protect the public, especially from those who may not be capable of controlling
Retribution – society is enacting revenge for the crime by making the offender suffer, and
this should be proportionate to the seriousness of the crime. The victim/family ten feel a
sense of justice being done.
Rehabilitation – the offender can be reformed and made into a better person through
some form of education (skills or training) or therapy. They should leave prison better
adjusted and ready to take their place back in society.
A prosecuting lawyer’s closing statement: “I think you’ll agree, ladies and gentlemen of the jury,
that the defendant, who is a notorious serial burglar who stands accused of yet another crime,
should be sent to prison for a very long time. As we have seen, he has caused immense
suffering to families over the years – now it’s his turn to pay with the loss of his liberty. At least
then the public will be safe and he might eventually mend his ways. It might also send a
message to others that crimes of this nature do not pay.”
1. Identify the aims of custodial sentencing in the lawyer’s statement.
2. Describe each aim of custodial sentencing.
3. Create a full application answer to the question by describing each aim and then
explaining it in the scenario.
4. Challenge: do you think these aims are met through custodial sentencing? Justify your
Stress and depression (including self-harm and suicide) – depression in prisons can be
explained in terms of hopelessness. When initially entering prison, offenders may feel
hopeless about the future and lacking in control. Depression may be expressed in the form
of self-harm. Suicide rates are considerably higher in prison than in the general population
and is an outcome of depression. The stress of the prison experience also increases the risk
of psychological disturbance following release.
Prisonisation – this refers to the way in which prisoners are socialised into adopting an
‘inmate code.’ Behaviour that may be considered unacceptable in the outside world may be
encouraged and rewarded within the prison. Prison acts as school for crime and reinforces a
criminal lifestyle and criminal norms. This leads to high recidivism rates with approximately
70% of young offenders re-offending within 2 years
Overcrowding and lack of privacy – prisons are often overcrowded resulting in a lack of
privacy which has a negative effect on the psychological state of prisoners. A study with rats
showed that overcrowding led to increased aggression, hypersexuality, stress and increased
Deindividuation – prisoners may experience a loss of individual identity (deindividuation)
which is associated with increased aggression and treating people in inhuman ways.
Effects on the family – children with a parent in prison are deeply affected financially and
psychologically. Additionally, parents in prison may feel guilt and separation anxiety.
Labelling – being labelled as an ex-convict leads to a loss of social contacts and reduced
employability. These affect recidivism rates.
Positive effects - resulting from opportunities, treatment, rehabilitation, remorse etc.
Is custodial sentencing effective?
Evaluating custodial sentencing +/- How this affects custodial sentencing
In the last 20 years, suicide rates among offenders tend to approximately
15 times higher than those in the general population. Most at risk are
young single men in the first 24 hours of confinement. A recent study by
the Prison Reform Trust (2014) found that 25% of women and 15% of
men in prison reported symptoms indicative of psychosis. It would seem
that the oppressive prison regime may trigger psychological disorders in
those who are vulnerable.
This suggests that custodial sentencing is not effective in rehabilitating the
individual, particularly those who are psychologically vulnerable. However, it
can’t be assumed that all offenders will react in the same way. Different
prisons have different regimes so there are likely to be wide variations in
experience. Additionally, the length of sentence, reason for imprisonment
and previous experience of prison may affect how the offender reacts.
Therefore, it is difficult to make general conclusions about the effectiveness
of custodial sentences for every prisoner in every prison.
The high rates of recidivism suggest that for at least 50% of the prison
population, punishment (and rehabilitation) doesn’t work. Punishment is
most effective when it occurs immediately, which doesn’t happen in the
case of a custodial sentence. An offender may see the sentence as
punishment for being caught rather than for the offence itself. Therefore,
what they learn is to avoid being caught. We would also expect the
severity of the punishment to act as a deterrent, but US statistics show
that murder rates are not lower in states with the death penalty.
This suggests that the threat of punishment in the form of custodial
sentencing is not effective and so custodial sentencing does not achieve
what it is what designed to.
Prison may increase the likelihood of reoffending rather than decrease it.
Differential association theory suggests that offenders would associate
with people who have pro-criminal attitudes and may learn particular
techniques for committing crime in prison. Latessa and Lowenkamp
(2006) concluded that placing low-risk offenders (in terms of recidivism)
with high-risk offenders makes it more likely that low-risk offenders will
This may undermine attempts to rehabilitate prisoners, suggesting that
custodial sentencing may not be effective as a result.
Many prisoners access education and training whilst in prison, increasing
the possibility that they will find employment upon release. Treatment
programmes such as anger management schemes and social skills
training may give offenders insight into their behaviour, reducing the
likelihood of recidivism.
This suggests that prison may be a worthwhile experience, assuming that
offenders are able to access these programmes as it may help to
rehabilitate them and reduce recidivism rates. However, many prisons lack
the resources to provide these programmes, and even when they can,
evidence to support the long-term benefits of such schemes is not
conclusive. Therefore, it may be premature to suggest that custodial
sentencing is effective in rehabilitating offenders.
The cost of prison care and the problems associated with it means
alternatives might be preferred. Evidence suggests that cautions are more
effective deterrents than arrests and that offenders sentenced to
community rehabilitation were less likely to reoffend. A further advantage
of this is that some of the problems that occur in prison (e.g. prisonisation,
deindividuation, suicide, lack of employment and effects on the family) can
be avoided by non-custodial sentences. The aims of custodial sentencing
can also be achieved without a prison sentence. For example, retribution
can be achieved through restorative justice which offers the added
potential of changes attitudes towards re-offending.
This suggests that as prison does little to deter or rehabilitate offenders,
alternatives may be preferable. However, alternatives may be seen as
insufficient by the victim/family and public at large who believe that
punishment through custodial sentencing is effective and necessary for
incapacitation and retribution.
Prepare for the lesson on behaviour modification in custody. You need:
Definitions of: behaviour modification, token economy, operant conditioning,
selective reinforcement, punishment, primary reinforcer, secondary reinforcer.
Describe how behaviour modification deals with offender behaviour using as many
of these key terms as you can.
Behaviour modification programmes are applications of the behaviourist approach to
They are designed with the aim of reinforcing obedient behaviour in offenders in the hope that
the behaviour will continue, whilst punishing disobedience in the hope that this will become
Therefore, they are based on the principles of operant conditioning.
The programmes allow effective management and monitoring of offenders during their
sentence, as well as reduce the likelihood of recidivism.
Behaviour modification in prison is possible through the use of a token economy system that
is based on the principle of operant conditioning. It can be managed and coordinated by
prison staff within the prison and can be implemented prison-wide or on selected individuals.
Tokens are given immediately each time offenders perform a desirable behaviour such as
following prison rules, keeping their cells orderly and avoiding conflict.
Although these tokens have no value in themselves (secondary reinforcers – they derive their
value from their association with a reward), they can be swapped later for more tangible
rewards (primary reinforcers). For example, phone calls to a loved one, time in the gym, extra
cigarettes or food.
Therefore, such rewards encourage the desirable behaviour to be repeated because they have
become associated with rewards and privileges. This allows effective management and
monitoring of offenders during their sentence, as well as reducing the likelihood of recidivism.
Tokens and the associated privileges can be removed for negative behaviour; this is a form of
Each of the behaviours and rewards would be made clear to the prisoners before the
programme is implemented.
Behaviours are changed in increments (shaping), so that desirable behaviours (e.g. avoiding
conflict) are broken down into small steps (e.g. working positively in a group, walking away
when provoked etc.) which can be reinforced a step at a time.
All those who come into contact with offenders must follow this same regime of selective
With reference to the case study provided:
Identify the behaviours you want to change, positive behaviours you want to encourage and
negative behaviours you want to discourage.
Describe how you could break down these behaviour into smaller increments that get more
complex to shape behaviour modification.
Explain how this could all be put together to create an effective behaviour modification
programme using the key terms on the key terms list. Justify why these steps will help using
your knowledge of the principles of operant conditioning.
Challenge: which type of offenders do you think this programme might be
particularly effective for? Which type of offenders might this not be effective for?
Justify your decisions.
You are going to share your work with the other groups.
Use the space below to make notes.
A Potential answer:
Token economy is a form of behavioural therapy used in the management of offenders. It
is used to shape and manage behaviour so that offenders are easier to manage during their
sentence and to reduce the likelihood of recidivism.
It involves desirable behaviours being encouraged through selective reinforcement. In
Norm’s case, he may be given tokens as secondary reinforcers immediately when he eats
meals without throwing food and obeys guard’s orders.
These tokens can then be exchanged for more tangible rewards (primary reinforcers) such
as privileges of phone calls to a loved one, time in the gym, extra cigarettes or food.
This encourages the desirable behaviours to be repeated because they have become
associated with rewards and privileges and so should make Norm’s behaviour easier to
manage and may reduce the likelihood of him reoffending.
If Norm throws food at dinner or disobeys orders, tokens and the associated privileges can
be removed (punishment).
All of this would be made clear to Norm before the programme is implemented.
Norm’s behaviours can be changed in increments (shaped), so that desirable behaviours
(e.g. not inciting others) are broken down into small steps (e.g. eating food sensibly) that
get more complex which can be reinforced a step at a time.
Evaluating behaviour modification in custody (token
What this tells us about behaviour modification in custody
Hobbs and Holt (1976) observed a token economy in use at
a state training school for adolescent delinquents aged 12-
15. 125 delinquent males were observed living in four
cottages (one was a control group who didn’t receive
tokens). Baseline data, before tokens, was collected for all
groups. They found that mean percentages for social
behaviours by an average of 27%. The control group
showed no increase in the same time period.
This suggests that behaviour modification is effective in managing offending
behaviour whilst the offenders are in prison.
The appeal of behaviour modification is that it is easy to
administer. There is no need for specialist professionals as
there would be for other forms of treatment such as anger
management. They can be implemented by virtually anyone
in any institution. They are also cost-effective and easy to
follow once workable methods of reinforcement have been
This suggests that behaviour modification may be more easily accessible
than other methods of dealing with offending behaviour and so may be more
likely to be effective as a result. However, this is dependent on the use of a
consistent approach from prison staff as evidence suggests that benefits are
lost after staff applied the techniques inconsistently.
Behaviour modification is regarded as manipulative and
dehumanising by several critics. Participation in the scheme
is obligatory for all offenders rather than optional.
Additionally, some prisoners are not able to earn tokens
because they can’t control their behaviour and so are denied
basic privileges or even necessities.
Although ultimately the offender can decide whether to comply with the
scheme or break the rules, critics have suggested that a programme which
may involve the withdrawal of privileges is ethically questionable.
Any positive changes in behaviour that may occur whilst the
offender is in prison may quickly be lost when they are
released. Cohen and Fitzpatrick (1971) found that offenders
who took part in a token economy programme were less
likely to reoffend than a control group two years later, but
after three years, rates of recidivism were back to reflecting
This may be because law-abiding behaviour is not always reinforced on the
outside, or the rewards the offender receives from breaking the law, such as
group status, may be more powerful. Additionally, it only encourages
superficial learning which offenders can play along with in order to access
rewards but may produce little change in their overall character. This
suggests that whilst behaviour modification might be effective in the short-
term, it doesn’t appear to be effective in the long-term. Other treatments such
as anger management may be preferable as the offenders are much more
active in reflecting on the cause of their offending and they are given greater
responsibility for their rehabilitation. This may lead to greater long-term impact
on recidivism rates.
Some people respond better to the programme than others.
Programmes with young delinquents have been reasonably
successful, but there has been less success with violent
offenders and those in maximum security psychiatric
This suggests that behaviour modification may only be effective in dealing
with some offending behaviour.
Prepare for the lesson on anger management as a way of dealing with offending behaviour. You
◦ Definitions of anger management, cognitive behavioural therapy.
◦ Describe the three steps of anger management: cognitive preparation, skills
acquisition and application practice.
◦ Explain how anger management is a cognitive behavioural therapy for offending
Challenge: where can anger management be implemented? In this way, how is it potentially
superior to behaviour modification
Novaco suggests that cognitive factors trigger the emotional arousal (anger) which generally
precedes aggressive acts. For example, the offender may think that someone looking at them is an
act of confrontation.
Becoming angry is reinforced because the individual feels control in the situation when they
Therefore, anger management is a type of cognitive behavioural therapy which aims to enable
offenders to recognise anger triggers and develop techniques to bring about conflict-resolution
without the need for violence. Therefore, they change and manage how they respond to anger.
Anger management can be used as part of the custodial sentence and outside of prison (e.g. as
part of the probation period).
It’s conducted in small groups that last around 10 sessions.
It’s based on the stress inoculation approach which aims to provide a kind of vaccination against
The Stages of Anger Management
1. Cognitive preparation – the offender learns to recognise
anger and their triggers for anger. The therapist can also
carefully challenge irrational interpretations of events that
2. Skill acquisition – techniques and skills are learned to deal
with the anger-provoking situations more rationally and
effectively (i.e. controlling/reducing the anger response) e.g.
positive self-talk, assertiveness training in how to
communicate more effectively, relaxation methods (e.g.
deep breathing exercises) and/or meditation.
3. Application practice – the offender applies their new skills in
the role play of situations that have escalated anger and
acts of violence in the past. Successful negotiation is met by
positive reinforcement from the therapist. Later, offenders
can try out their skills in real-world settings. This should
enable them to manage their anger in present and future
situations, and consequently facilitate rehabilitation and
reduce the likelihood of reoffending.
Brad is a regular in the local magistrates’ court. He frequently gets into fights when he goes our
to town for the evening and has a bit of a reputation in bars and clubs around town as a ‘hard
man.’ After he is arrested for fighting yet again, the local magistrate finally decides that Brad
has ‘anger issues’ and suggests he seeks anger management treatment. Brad thinks that the
people in bars and clubs look at him weirdly and laugh at him, so they have it coming.
1. Name and define the three stages of anger management.
2. Give examples of how each stage of anger management could be applied to Brad.
3. Why is anger management likely to have longer-term effects on recidivism rates than
4. Challenge: in what ways might anger management be inferior to behaviour
Terry is serving a six month sentence for a violent assault. Terry repeatedly punched a man
who had caused him to spill a drink after bumping into him at the bar of a busy pub. Known to
his friends as ‘Mad Terry’, he has served time for similar incidents in the past. Terry has also hit
his wife on two occasions – his explanation is that when she ‘nags’ him, he ‘sees red’. Terry has
agreed to undertake a course of anger management during his prison sentence.
1. Identify Terry’s triggers for anger and use these (and Novaco’s ideas) to explain why he
might continue to respond aggressively in different situations.
2. Describe the stages of anger management.
3. At each stage, give examples of how the stage would work in Terry’s particular case.
Challenge: structure your answer as an 8 mark application answer: describe anger management
and explain how it would be used to deal with Terry’s offending behaviour.
management - point
Evidence/example Explanation and link to the question
There is research evidence
to support the effectiveness
of anger management as a
way of dealing with
Ireland (2004) found significant improvements in an
experimental group who had 12 one-hour anger management
sessions when reassessed 8 weeks after baseline measures
and no changes in the control group over that time period.
Consequently, whether an offender can even access
this treatment is something of a postcode lottery which
may limit its overall effectiveness. This is in stark
contrast to behaviour modification in which there is no
need for specialist professionals as there would be for
other forms of treatment such as anger management.
They can be implemented by virtually anyone in any
institution. This suggests that behaviour modification
may be more easily accessible than anger
management and so may be more likely to be effective
as a result.
Anger management works
on a number of different
Blackburn (1993) pointed out that whilst anger management
may have a noticeable effect on the conduct of offenders in the
short-term, there is very little evidence that it reduces
recidivism in the long-term.
This may be because the application stage of treatment
relies heavily on role play which may not reflect all of
the possible triggers in a real-life situation. Even though
anger management can be delivered outside of the
prison setting, it may count for little as a result of this
and so may not be successful in dealing with offending
behaviour in the long-term.
Anger management may be
more successful than
Rather than focusing on superficial surface behaviour, it
attempts to address the thought processes that underlie
offending behaviour. Experience of anger management may
give offenders new insights into the cause of their criminality,
enabling them to self-discover new ways of managing
themselves outside of the prison environment.
This suggests that anger management programmes are
successful in reducing anger in offenders in the short-
term and so are a potentially effective way of dealing
with offending behaviour.
Anger management may
not be effective in the long-
They are expensive to run because they require highly trained
specialists who are used to dealing with violent offenders.
Many prisons don’t have the resources to fund such
programmes. Additionally, its success relies on the
commitment of those who participate, and this may be a
problem in offenders who are uncooperative and apathetic.
Therefore, it is logical assume that anger management
is more likely than behaviour modification to lead to
permanent behavioural change and lower rates of
Anger management is more
expensive and requires
more commitment than
other methods of dealing
with offending behaviour.
It includes cognitive preparation in order to identify the
precursors to anger in stage one. A behaviourist perspective is
applied in stage two when developing techniques of self-
management. A social approach is adopted in stage three
when offenders are required to demonstrate what they have
learned during role play.
This multidisciplinary approach acknowledges that
offending is a complex social and psychological activity,
and so may be more likely to be effective in reducing
recidivism by addressing all of these different elements.
Preparation for the lesson on restorative justice as a way of dealing with offending behaviour
Prepare for the lesson on restorative justice as a way of dealing with offending behaviour:
Definition of: restorative justice.
Explain how restorative justice is different to custodial sentencing in its emphasis.
Describe the process of restorative justice (what actually happens) and the aims of
restorative justice (what it’s trying to achieve).
This is a system for dealing with offending behaviour which focuses on the rehabilitation of
offenders through reconciliation with the victims.
This switches the emphasis from the needs of the state (to enforce the law and punish) to the
needs of the victim in coming to terms with the crime and moving on.
Both the offender and victim are encouraged to be active participants in the process, which can
take place face-to-face or using alternative methods e.g. via letter. The focus is on positive
outcomes for survivors and offenders, and on acceptance of responsibility and positive change
for offenders. There is less emphasis on punishment.
It involves a supervised meeting between the two parties and is attended by a trained
The victim is given the opportunity to confront the offender and explain how the incident
The offender is able to see the consequences of their actions, including the emotional
distressed caused. This an important part of the rehabilitation process.
The offender may make some financial restitution to the victim, reflecting the physical or
psychological harm done, or may repair the damage themselves.
It can be an alternative to custodial sentencing, an ‘add-on’ to community service or an
incentive which may lead to the reduction of an existing sentence.
Restorative justice addresses two key aims of custodial sentencing:
◦ Rehabilitation of offenders – as the victim has the opportunity to explain the impact
of the crime, the offender understands the effects on the victim. Therefore, they learn
to take the perspective of others, which reduces the likelihood of reoffending,
especially as the offender is encouraged to take responsibility for their crime.
◦ Retribution – the offender ‘suffers’ by showing feelings of guilt or compensating the
survivor. They may also show understanding of the effects of their actions. The
victim’s explanation offers the offender the chance of developing empathy, which
reduces the likelihood of reoffending.
It also reduces the victim’s sense of victimisation because they are no longer powerless and
have a voice. They may also develop a greater understanding of the offender by listening to
their account, which reduces their sense of being harmed.
Evaluating restorative justice Strength or
What this tells us about restorative justice
The UK Restorative Justice Council (2015) report 85% satisfaction from
victims in face-to-face meetings with their offender(s). Avon and Somerset
police reported 92.5% victim satisfaction with restorative justice for victims of
This supports that victims who have participated in restorative justice
feel it was beneficial. This is a particular advantage of restorative
justice compared to the other ways of dealing with offending behaviour
because it is the only method that truly aims to support the victims as
well as rehabilitate offenders.
Sherman and Shang (2007) reviewed 20 studies of face-to-face restorative
justice in the UK, USA and Australia. All studies showed reduced reoffending
and none were linked to higher reoffending. In one of the studies, reoffending
was 11%, compared to 37% for a matched control group. The UK Restorative
Justice Council (2015) report an overall figure of 14% reduction in offending
This supports that restorative justice helps to reduce reoffending and
therefore reduce crime rates, suggesting it is an effective way of
dealing with offending behaviour.
From the victim’s perspective, one of the major ethical concerns is what
happens if they feel worse afterwards? Women’s Aid have called for a
legislative ban on the use of restorative justice in domestic violence cases
because of the power imbalance in the relationship between the abuser and
the abused. From the offender’s perspective, making people face up to their
wrongdoing can lead to abuses of power. For example, the victim or their
families may gang up on an offender, especially where the offender is a child.
They may try to shame the offender, which is not the intention of the process.
Weakness Restorative justice programmes need to be carefully balanced and
mediated to ensure benefit to both the victim and offender, as currently
the high dropout rates from one or the other ‘losing their nerve’ may
mean that it’s not currently the best long-term solution. It may only be
appropriate for certain types of offence rather than every crime.
The success of restorative justice programmes relies on the extent to which
an offender feels remorse for their actions. There is a danger that some
offenders may ‘sign up’ for the scheme to avoid prison, or for the promise of a
reduced sentence, rather than a genuine willingness to want to make amends
with the victim.
Weakness This means that restorative justice programmes may not lead to
positive outcomes when participants do not agree to take part for the
best of intentions, which may limit the overall effectiveness of the
Retribution, rehabilitation and deterrence can all be achieved as part of
restorative justice. The process of facing the victim is seen as a punishment
(although preferable to incarceration), and may be enough to act as a
Strength By avoiding custodial sentencing and yet still achieving the aims of it,
the negative psychological effects of custodial sentencing can be
avoided. Whilst restorative justice is expensive as it requires a trained
specialist mediator, estimates from the Restorative Justice Council
claim that reduced reoffending means that £8 is saved for every £1
spent on the restorative process. This suggests that restorative justice
is also a cost-effective way of dealing with offending behaviour.
Despite restorative justice seeming to reduce rates of recidivism and how it
may prove cheaper than running and staffing overcrowded prisons,
alternatives to custodial sentencing tend not to gather much public support.
They are often regarded as soft options because the deterrent and retribution
are less explicitly obvious and the aim of incapacitation is not met.
Weakness These sentiments tend to be echoed by politicians who are keen to
convince the electorate that they are ‘tough on crime.’ Therefore,
despite its seeming effectiveness, restorative justice may never be
tolerated by the public on a widespread scale, limiting its overall impact
on recidivism rates.
1. Explain what is meant by restorative justice (3 marks)
2. Outline one study in which the effectiveness of restorative justice was investigated (3 marks)
3. Outline how restorative justice has been used to deal with offending behaviour (6 marks)
4. Critics of the prison system argue that building more prisons is pointless because prison
does not make offenders better people. Briefly outline one alternative to custodial
sentencing and discuss why it might be a better way of dealing with offenders than sending
them to prison (5 marks).
5. Plan: discuss restorative justice as a way of dealing with offending behaviour (16 marks)
6. Challenge: plan: Experts have different views about how to deal with recidivism. Some
believe that custodial sentencing is the best way of reducing re-offending; others think that
prison may not be the solution and that there are better alternatives. There is also much
debate about whether treatment programmes reduce re-offending. Discuss ways of dealing
with the problem of recidivism. Refer to the views outlined above in your answer. (16 marks)