Psychoanalysis and Psychology

In general, all psychological explanations look inside the human mind for the causes of criminal offending. The oldest and perhaps one of the most influential theories was Sigmund Freuds psychoanalytic theory. Although Freud did not set out to explain criminal behavior, some of his followers offered explanations based on psychoanalytic theories.

Basically, psychoanalytic theory views behavior as resulting from the interactions of the three components of personality: the id, the ego, and the superego. Freud saw the id as the instinctual, primitive part of the personality. The ego was that part which mediated between the self-centered desires of the id and the learned values of the superego. The superego acts as a person s conscience, but develops from the values an individual learns early in life. When there is a faulty ego or superego, then these two parts of the personality' fail to control the id. This results in personality imbalances, and the result is likely to be deviant behavior.

Although psychoanalysis was influential in the early part of the twentieth century, it gave way' to other psychologically based theories.

Other Psychological Theories

Psychological theories about the causes of crime go back to the nineteenth century. In addition to Freud’s psychoanalytic theory, Charles Goring studied the mental characteristics of English convicts. By studying more than 3000 convicts, he found that there was a relationship between crime and a condition he called defective intelligence, which included such traits as feeblemindedness, epilepsy, and insanity.

Other psychoanalysts who followed Freud or studied with him were seemingly' more interested in criminal behavior than was Freud. August Aichhorn, for instance, examined many' delinquent youth and concluded that social stress alone could not account for delinquent or criminal behavior. Aichhorn said that there had to be a predisposition for antisocial acts (Siegel, 2006). Such predisposition, according to Aichhorn, included impulsivity, a tendency' to consider one’s own needs as more important than others’ needs, and a lack of guilt.

More recently, psychologists have linked criminal behavior to a psychological condition called disruptive behavior disorder (Siegel, 2006). Children and teens can experience one of two forms of disruptive behavior disorder. One is oppositional defiant disorder, in which young people show an ongoing pattern of uncooperative, defiant, and hostile behavior toward authority figures. Adolescents with oppositional defiant disorder may frequently' lose their temper, argue with adults, be easily frustrated and moody', and abuse drugs as a form of self-medication (Siegel, 2006).

The other form of disruptive behavior disorder is conduct disorder, which is a much more serious behavioral and emotional disorder. Young people who are diagnosed as having a conduct disorder have difficulty' following rules and are usually viewed as being antisocial. They may be involved in such behaviors as fighting, bullying, sexual assaults, robbery, and cruelty to animals. Although it is not precisely known what causes conduct disorders, research has implicated brain dysfunction, neurotransmitter (the chemicals that send messages in the brain) irregularities, and genetics (Siegel and Welsh, 2009).

There has been growing research in recent years to show that there is a link between mental illness and criminal behavior. That is, when people have such serious mental illness as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and severe depression, there appears to be an increased risk for serious, violent crimes. Studies in recent years have found a positive relationship between psychotic disorders and criminal violence (Siegel, 2006).

Other psychologists developed a cognitive theory of crime hypothesizing that criminal offending results from habits of thought and interpretations of reality. More recent refinements of cognitive theory suggest that criminals interpret situations differently from noncriminals. For example, criminal offenders might tend to view situations in more hostile ways and then are most likely to respond with aggressive behavior.

Reacting against psychoanalytic and dynamic psychological explanations were psychologists and psychiatrists such as Samuel Yochelson and Stanton Samenow, who rejected the idea that criminal behavior was a symptom of buried conflicts. Yochelson and Samenow theorized that criminals choose to commit crimes and that the cause is the way they think. All criminals are alike,Yochelson and Samenow concluded, in how they think; they think in distorted and twisted ways. Punishment, however, will not cure distorted and criminal thinking.They must be taught to think differently (Samenow, 1984).

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