An Overview of Psychological Theories of Crime

INTRODUCTION

When a crime happens, there are various reasons behind it. But the reasons are usually not known to most of us. Criminology theories or theories of crime describe those reasons. An individual can commit a crime for satisfying different needs. Crime causation has always been a complex field[1]. For a long time, scientists and experts have been trying to figure out what causes crime. There are several theories regarding this issue of explaining crimes which have been explained in the later parts of this article. As had been already mentioned, this article primarily deals with the psychological theories of crime. The psychological theories have been proven to be one of the most significant ones out of all the other theories. It can further be divided into “psychodynamic theory”, “behavioral theory”, and “cognitive theory”[2].

DETAILED ANALYSIS OF THE PSYCHOLOGICAL THEORIES OF CRIME

The first element of the psychological theories of crime is the “psychodynamic theory”.
The “psychodynamic theory” had been based on the approach that Sigmund Freud had concerning the field of psychology. It has the components of “id”, “ego”, and “superego”. Some experts had accepted that there is a link between this theory and the causation of a crime. According to them, any kind of imbalance amongst the abovementioned components might be a cause behind delinquency. At the same time, this belief had been disregarded by many scientists who believe that there is no such link between these components and criminology. The main problem that lies with this theory is that it is difficult to test[3]. This theory also mentions that an individual’s criminal behavior can get projected when there is an imbalance in the psyche of the individual. Such imbalances often happen as a result of an unpleasant childhood. Disturbing childhood experiences might trigger bitter emotions in individuals even in their adulthood.
The next important component of the psychological theory is the “behavioral theory”. Experts say that human behavior develops based on the experiences that they gather with time[5]. If a person is in the company of those who endorse and even reward criminal conduct – particularly those in positions of authority – they will continue to engage in that behavior and attitude. According to social learning theorist Albert Bandura, “Individuals are not born with an innate ability to act violently. He instead suggests people learn violent behavior through observing others. Typically, this comes from three sources: family, environmental experiences, and the mass media.” Behavioral issues can happen due to family issues, violent environments, drug problems, etc. Proper behavior comes as a result of proper conditioning. Childhood plays an important role when we talk about the psychological theories of crime.
Finally, the cognitive theory is an important element of the psychological theory. Individuals’ mental processes or cognitive functions are the focus of psychologists in this field. More notably, cognitive theorists seek to comprehend how criminal offenders perceive and mentally represent their surroundings[6]. This element is more about how an individual judges the morality of a situation, and how they differentiate right from wrong. There are certain levels and stages in this theory. The cognitive theory and the behavioral theory are quite interlinked to each other.

OTHER THEORIES OF CRIME

The various theories of crime apart from the psychological theories are mentioned as follows: “Biological theories”, “Economic theories”, “Psychological theories”, “Political theories”, “Sociological theories”, “Strain theory”, “Social learning theory, “Control theory”. The biological theory states that a link can be established between the biological state of a person to their criminal tendencies. It also suggests that genetics play an important role in determining the criminal behavior of an individual. Sociological theories are another important set of theories in the field of criminology. This theory can further be divided into three theories: “strain theory”, “social learning theory”, and “control theory”. In the case of a strain theory, an individual does criminal activities because they experience extreme stress and negativity around them that makes them act in a particular way. According to social learning theory, individuals get involved in crimes due to social situations around them (for instance “peer pressure”). Finally, control theory is defined as the situation where an individual feels that they can achieve a thing conveniently through crimes.
There are a lot of other theories, that have been proven to be very useful in studying the reasons as to why a criminal commits the crime.

IMPORTANCE OF CRIMINOLOGY THEORIES

It is extremely important to know why an individual commits a crime. If that becomes known, it will be easy to avoid crime. These criminology theories help the law experts, policymakers and experts belonging to other fields like psychology[7], to frame a society that is free from criminal activities. Studying these theories also helps in finding new ways to deal with delinquents. The “cognitive-behavioural approach” assists delinquents in developing basic socially appropriate abilities for identifying and resolving conflicts and problems[8].

CONCLUSION

It can be concluded from the article that it is essential to study criminology theories to understand crimes from their grassroots level. Criminology and criminal law are very much related to each other. Punishments mentioned under criminal law are supposed to help the delinquents to become better people. In a way, it also affects the psychology of the individual. Similarly, criminology also helps in understanding the minds of criminals. After lots of studies, it had been found that these crime theories (especially the psychological theories) are very much linked to the criminal mindsets of individuals.

ENDNOTES

  1. Sonia Balhara, “Theories of causation of crime”, [January 31, 2021], https://blog.ipleaders.in/theories-causation-crime.
  2. “Psychological Theories of Crime”, http://criminal-justice.iresearchnet.com/criminology/theories/psychological-theories-of-crime/
  3. “What Are the Three Major Psychological Theories of Crime?”, https://online.pointpark.edu/criminal-justice/psychological-theories-of-crime/
  4. Meghna Gupta, “Psychological Theories of Crime”, https://www.legalserviceindia.com/legal/article-984-psychological-theories-of-crime.html
  5. Ibid
  6. Supra note 2
  7. “Major Criminology Theories and How They Affect Policy”, [October 31, 2018], https://onlinedegrees.kent.edu/sociology/criminal-justice/community/criminal-behavior-theories
  8. J. J. Platt and M F Prout, “Cognitive-Behavioural Theory and Interventions for Crime and Delinquency (From Behavioural Approaches to Crime and Delinquency: A Handbook of Application, Research, and Concepts)”, https://www.ojp.gov/ncjrs/virtual-library/abstracts/cognitive-behavioral-theory-and-interventions-crime-and-delinquency

This article is written by Aaratrika Bal student at National Law University Odisha.

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