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Psychological approach to criminal behavior

Question:

Discuss and compare the explanations provided by different researchers and theorists, while critically evaluating the evidence provided by these researchers and theorist to support their explanations on Sadistic Rapists.

From the very beginning of human civilization man has been constantly endeavoring to understand his own mind, which is probably the most complex part of the entire human body. Human beings use only less than 10 percent of the brains ability and understands even lesser about the functioning of the brain in spite of detailed and dedicated researches. Why some people show the tendency to engage in criminal behavior is one of the questions to which researchers have been trying to find answers.

Reiman and Leighton has pointed out various causes that may lead to the making of a criminal including poverty, social injustice and discrimination (Reiman and Leighton 2015). However, this cannot be taken as entirely true because other people in the same set up may not exhibit criminal activities. Therefore, the question lies whether some genetic factors determine criminal behaviors in a person as pointed by Tiihonen et al. in 2015, or it is caused by the external factors which induce the criminal behavior in innocent people (Clinard, Quinney and Wildeman 2014).

This paper will analyze various theories formulated or discussed by experts and researchers which endeavor in explaining the causative factors behind the criminal behavior in people, and the theories will be critically analyzed and compared with examples. Special emphasis will be given on the behavior of the “sadistic rapists” and how the theories prove to be helpful in explaining such trait.

Criminal behavior is displayed when one individual performs some activity which is considered to be unlawful, unethical and immoral by the larger section of the society and is punishable by the justice system of a particular place. Criminology deals with the study and analysis of such criminal behaviors and reasons behind them (Presser and Sandberg 2015). There are various theories that aims to explain criminal behaviors and their causes. The history of criminology and the study of criminal behaviors can be dated back to the mid-18th Century. Cesare Beccaria who was a famous jurist, politician and philosopher in Italy started his experimentations on the subject and authored “On Crimes and Punishments”. This is the founding base of Classical Criminology and the author argues that the punishment should quickly follow the crime in order to keep both of these psychologically associated (Porta and Bruni 2014). Cesare Lombroso who was Italian physician is widely regarded as the “father of criminology” for his contributions in the study (Ystehede 2017). What Lombroso did was establishing a new theory of criminology discarding the “classical criminology.” His theory of criminology included degeneration theory, psychology and psychiatry.

Sadistic rapists and psychological theory of criminology

All the theories of criminal behaviors can be broadly categorized into mainly three categories- Psychological, sociological and biological. Though they have different approaches towards crime they cannot be separated as altogether new theories because all of these have effects on human criminal behavior.

The psychological approach to criminal behavior states that mainly personality is the reason behind human behavior and when there is imbalance in human psychology. Mental process if works in dysfunctional inappropriate way gives rise to adoption of criminal behavior in human beings. There is a category of mindset that can be termed as “antisocial personality disorder”. These people are rebellious about social norms and shows little empathy towards other lives. They do not care about ethics or morals. This slowly leads to up taking of criminal activities in later life. Hollin in his “Psychology and crime: An introduction to criminological psychology” has stated that social cognition that shapes the way we think and perceive people also determines our behavior towards them (Hollin 2013). An imbalance in this process can lead to the situation where a person may start having instincts to inflict harm on others out of hatred. So it is a reductionist view of criminology in which only the psychological factor is seen to be responsible for a person to commit criminal offences.

Sadistic rape is when the aggressor inflicts pain upon the victim to derive sexual pleasure. It is a strange psychological desire where the suffering of the victim is perceived erotic by the criminal. In the article “The sexual responses of sexual sadists” the authors have pointed out that the sadists show sexual stimulation just by the idea of violence and injury on a victim during rape (Seto et al. 2012). The psychological theory of criminology explains these sadistic rapists as having psychologically imbalanced, and a disturbed brain and psychological process is what leads them to perform such behavior. However, it can be said after comprehending on such incidents that there must be other factors including external factors that may have shaped the criminal’s thought process in a way that the person perceives torture as erotic. This critical analysis can be further contemplated when other theories of criminology are discussed.


The sociological approach to criminal behavior mainly states that the factors which induce criminality in an individual are external and environmental factors. There are many theories which have been proposed by various researchers in this regards, the social disorganization theory is one such. The theory was mainly formulated by Clifford and Henry in 1942 in a research on residences of juvenile criminals. The authors found that the crime rates are more in areas where there is poverty and social and economic disadvantages (Shaw and McKay 1942). Hence the conclusion was that the neighborhood and living environment exerts influence on the criminal behavior of a person. To critically contest this theory, it can be said that there are examples of criminals from very rich background, H.H Holmes who had his house designed with tunnels and chambers to murder people was a super-rich person. There are many similar examples. This theory also does not fit in with the sadistic rapist criminals, there can be no relationship between a person’s poverty and his or her erotic feelings to see the victim suffering from pain. The social disorganization theory may be true in the cases where people out of poverty is forced to steal or show some similar criminal activity in order to make the ends meet.

Sociological approach to criminal behavior

Another theory in sociological approach to criminal behavior is the “Anomie or Strain Theory”. Robert Merton drawing on the ideas of Emile Durkheim who is often regarded as the “father of sociology” stated that deviance or crime is committed when goals of a society like wealth and status has a huge gap with the means to achieve them then criminal activities are committed. Means to attain the cultural goals of wealth and status include education and employment opportunities (Sealock 2017). When a person is fed with the desire of attaining the cultural goals but is not provided with the means in reaching the goals, out of unfulfilled desires crime is committed. This theory can successfully explain some of the crimes which are mainly related to deprivation and disadvantages. However, the criminals who commit crimes like rape and murder are not always drawn by this cause. Though in some cases rape is committed by deprived criminals to psychologically enjoy the power status, which otherwise in the general society he is deprived of. The inflicting of pain, torture and establishing control over a victim may come from the desire to enjoy power status which is deprived to him by the society in general, hence a crime is committed to fulfill these desires.

The sociological theory includes the Subcultural theory of crime which is interconnected to the strain theory. Albert Cohen conducted his research on offended and deviant groups in various social contexts such as schools and colleges in 1955. The groups which are oppressed and socially deprived and usually called as the “lower class” to establish their rights display criminal behaviors. As example the author puts forward the example of organized criminal behavior where small groups of deprived Africans formed their criminal groups in American schools and colleges.


The Biological Approach theory of criminology states that criminal behaviour is mainly because some problems in the biological set up of the individual. Biological approach has different aspects on which depends the criminal behaviour, these aspects are Heredity and genetics, dysfunction in the neurotransmitters, brain dysfunctionality due to trauma. The biological approach also states that every person has a side of criminality in him or her from birth. As mentioned above Cesare Lombroso, the Italian psychiatrist was the proponent of this theory. He had reviewed and researched on several criminals and found some common physical problems and characteristics in them, he mentions “sloping foreheads and receding chins”. This theory is one of the classical theories of criminology and no longer taken into favor after the more advanced theories as mentioned above has emerged.

Subcultural theory of crime

Even the contemporary theorists who rely on the biological approach no longer just depend on the physical attributes of the criminal and includes biochemical conditions, genetic inheritance, abnormality in thought, disabilities in the brain and intellect.

There are researches on the possibility of controlling behaviour of a person through medical processes such as medication and surgery. Not many has been successfully conducted on criminals to give positive results. There was a tradition of performing frontal lobotomy to control depression. The process mainly includes the disassociation of the frontal cortex mainly through surgery. The procedure was inhumane and did not include anesthetics. It was painful and rather than bringing a positive effect in the individual it gave severe health complications. There has been lately the rise of use of chemical intervention in order to control criminal tendency in the individuals. Often the mentally ill criminals are advised medication by the doctors and psychiatric counselors provide counselling so that they can get over their illness.

To critically assess this theory, it must be said that there are many flaws in the biological theory of criminology. Loeber, Byrd and Farrington in their article “Why Developmental Criminology Is Still Coming of Age: The Influence of Biological Factors on Within-Individual Change” concedes that only the biological factor cannot be held responsible for severe criminal activities and there a combination of psychological, social and biological factors that leads to criminal activities (Loeber, Byrd and Farrington 2015). The sadist rapists who find pleasure in the activity of inflicting pain on the victim must have received the propensity of inflicting pain from some external source. Either they have gone through a violent past, or they have seen such things from where they are inspired. Of course they are sick people in their mind for which they perform such activities, but the external factors cannot be ignored altogether.

Conclusion

There are various forms of extreme criminal behaviors that criminals perform including murder, rape and torture. The sadist rapists get satisfaction by inflicting pain on the victims which often lead to murder in extreme cases. The pedophiles hunt for children to get sexual satisfaction. The criminological researchers have done extensive research on the criminal behavior of human beings in order to understand the cause behind such behaviors so that they can be solved and the crime rates can be reduced. As discussed above various theories relating to psychological, biological and social aspects of crime has been analyzed to understand the criminal mindsets.

However, in most of the cases it can be found that no singular aspect can be held responsible for severe criminal behaviors. There are complex background stories behind the making of a criminal which may combine the various theories of criminology.

The psychological theory most clearly attributes criminal activities to the cognitive aspect of the human brain. When there is a flaw and abnormality in the process of thinking in the human cognition, crime is committed. On the other hand, the social approach believes that the external social factors are responsible for making of criminals. The theorists of the biological approach school believe that the imbalance in the brain and body gives rise to criminal mentality. However, after due consideration and critical analysis of all the theories it can be concluded that the criminals have a complicated mental and psychological set up which results in their propensity of committing crime, there are combination of psychological factors which lead to criminal activities

References:

Clinard, M.R., Quinney, R. and Wildeman, J. (2014) Criminal Behavior Systems: A Typology. Routledge.

Cohen, A. (1955) Delinquent Boys. New York, 84.

Hollin, C.R. (2013) Psychology and Crime: An Introduction To Criminological Psychology. Routledge.

Loeber, R., Byrd, A.L. and Farrington, D.P. (2015) ‘5 Why Developmental Criminology Is Still Coming of Age: The Influence of Biological Factors on Within-Individual Change.’ In The Development Of Criminal And Antisocial Behavior (Pp. 65-73). Springer, Cham.

Porta, P. and Bruni, L. (2014) ‘Cesare Beccaria's On Crimes and Punishment’. History Of Economics Review, (60), pp.64-74.

Presser, L. and Sandberg, S. eds. (2015) Narrative criminology: Understanding Stories Of Crime. NYU Press.

Reiman, J. and Leighton, P. (2015) The Rich Get Richer And The Poor Get Prison: Ideology, Class, And Criminal Justice. Routledge.

Sealock, M.D. (2017) Strain Theories. The Encyclopedia of Juvenile Delinquency and Justice.

Seto, M.C., Lalumière, M.L., Harris, G.T. and Chivers, M.L. (2012) ‘The Sexual Responses Of Sexual Sadists’. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 121(3), p.739.

Shaw, C.R. and McKay, H.D. (1942) Juvenile Delinquency and Urban Areas. Chicago, Ill.

Tiihonen, J., Rautiainen, M.R., Ollila, H.M., Repo-Tiihonen, E., Virkkunen, M., Palotie, A., Pietiläinen, O., Kristiansson, K., Joukamaa, M., Lauerma, H. and Saarela, J. (2015) ‘Genetic Background Of Extreme Violent Behavior’. Molecular Psychiatry, 20(6), p.786.

Ystehede, P.J. (2017) Lombroso, Cesare. The Encyclopedia of Corrections.

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