The study of criminal minds has been in existence for many centuries but has only gained prominence in recent times. This can mostly be attributed to popularization by the media especially in the West. Psychologists and criminal profilers have been gathering valuable data regarding to the reasons behind any criminal act and behavior. They have managed to do this by conducting interviews and studying infamous criminals such as Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer among others. One of the most acceptable conclusion as regarding to this matter is that criminality is as a result of nurturing and personality. However, theorists have come up with other theories of the mind that explore criminals as psychological misfits. Does a criminal mind exist? In this paper, I shall set out to explore the various theories that try to explain this predicament. The factors that lead to criminality shall be discussed and the various types of criminals discussed. All this shall be done to help us gain better understanding as to why people commit crimes and ultimately determine whether the criminal mind exists.
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A criminal by definition refers to an individual who is driven by evil intentions that lead him/her into committing harmful deeds to others. A criminal mind is therefore the characteristics of the thought processes of such individuals. This implies that criminals have a special and unique thinking mechanism that facilitates their ability to commit and justify criminal acts. Various opinions are held regarding the criminal mind and the topic provokes ardent emotions of admiration and rage from its proponents and opponents respectively. Hough (2003), notes that while some appreciate the paradigm as being a rich form of psychoanalytic art, others condemn it for being socially problematic and for encouraging “heinous acts” among members of society.
Perhaps the common denominator in all forms of crime is the somewhat unnecessary infliction of pain to others. Watt, Howells and Delfabbro (2004), notes that it is the perception of crimes that makes them so appealing to rebels and people who view themselves as social misfits as they show that they can defy the set rules and laws. This to some extent explains why acts such as burglary and excessive violence are prevalent in today’s gang member, incarcerated people and rebellious teenagers.
Fisher (2006), states that crime requires planning and an evaluation of the risks and the benefits. The execution of any criminal act is hinged upon the occurrence of opportunities, the location and the availability of targets. However, the extent of the crime depends on the belief system of the perpetrator. This means that if a criminal believes that committing a crime is justified, then there is no limit to what they can do. This just goes to show the existence of the criminal mind.
The classical theory of crime assumes that criminal acts are as a result of an individual’s free will. The theory assumes that humans are rational beings with a clear understanding of the consequences that may arise from any decision that they make (Payne & Salotti, 2007). This theory shows that everybody has the potential to commit crime if need be. As such, it implies that there is no such thing as a criminal mind and that criminals have the same attributes and thought process as any other person. The only difference is that in a similar situation, some individuals may choose to commit crime thus making them criminals.
The biological criminal theory holds that criminal actions and behaviors are to a large extent determined by genetics. According to Fisher (2006), human behaviors may be inherited from one generation to another. The author further asserts that factors such as physical trauma, nutrition and DNA work together to nurture criminal behavior. The author claims that the effects of hormones and various environmental contaminants may lead a person into committing crime. As such, this theory argues that crime is an inborn trait. Arguably, this theory proposes that there is a criminal mind. The fact that criminal behavior can be inherited means that people born with such traits are unique. Good examples of such individuals are the pathological liars. According to Rodgers (1989), lying to these people comes naturally (is inborn) and in some cases, it is very hard even for forensic experts to differentiate between what is true and what is not.
The sociological theory of crime places more emphasis on the social environment as the main cause of criminal tendencies. The theory purports that religion, school setting and broken or weak family ties accompanied by abuse are the most prevalent catalysts to criminal characteristics. According to this theory, individuals commit crime because they do not see the importance of following prescribed social rules and values. Criminals view their actions as means of compensating and improving their social situations (Payne & Salotti, 2007). This implies that social environment is the basis of all criminal actions regardless of the consequences.
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In Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic theory, the theorists assert that all humans have underlying desires. As such, it is only through socialization that these urges can be controlled. Therefore, a person with poor social skills develops a personality disorder which forces him/her to exhibit antisocial tendencies. Those that bring out these tendencies become criminals while those who suppress them become neurotics. This theory is therefore a proponent to the fact that criminals are social misfits trying to compensate for their weaknesses. The sociological theory of crime purports that crime is as a result of sociological influences. Examples of criminals in this category include gang members and serial killers. Their acts of violence are triggered by their need to empower themselves in a society that constantly undermines them. Therefore, this theory does not support the existence of a criminal mind but assumes that criminals are normal people acting out on their social frustrations.
On the other hand, the interactionist theory asserts that an individual’s interaction with criminals may influence him/her to commit crime. The theory proposes that lack of self, control, peer pressure and lack of adequate social roles (unemployment) are some of the factors that contribute to criminal behaviors. According to Fisher (2006), lack of proper supervision may lead some people into associating with criminals. From these associations, individuals are influenced into committing crime and becoming notorious criminals. This theory proposes that a criminal mind can be acquired through an individual’s association with criminals. It assumes that from such interactions, an individual learns how to think, act and react to different situations like a criminal. Good examples of such criminals include pickpockets and conmen who learn the art of performing their crimes without being detected. They are not crimes that anyone can commit and they require a lot of skills and intelligence to identify the “mark” and pull off.
Despite all these, some criminals are indeed unique. These types of criminals are mentally disturbed or have psychological disorders. As such, their criminal acts are not motivated by social, material or emotional needs but by their unconscious selves. Psychological disorders such as split/multiple personality disorder, schizophrenia and insanity may lead an individual into committing crime even without their knowledge. Their urge to commit crime is suppressed in their subconscious and reveals itself without any warning or reservations.
The study of a criminal’s mind has been very important in many fields of specialty. This paper set out to find out the rationale behind a criminal mind. Through the discussion, it has been observed that criminal acts are mostly undertaken as a form of self expression to create a unique identity for oneself. Various theories on crime have been highlighted and discussed. Factors that motivate individuals to commit crime have also been mentioned. This has been presented to explore whether there are unique attributes that makes criminals different from the rest.
The study of the criminal mind has been instrumental in analyzing the factors that make people commit crime, why they do it and the probability of committing them again. As such, the role that the findings play in minimizing crime cannot be understated. It should be noted that criminals are not unique beings but. They are misguided individuals in need of psychological and correctional help. The pain and havoc that they cause to others can be quelled by ensuring that opportunities to commit crime are minimized as much as possible.
Fisher, B.S. (2006). Crime Prevention. Journal of Security Education, 2(1), 103 – 111.
Hough, M. (2003). Modernization and public opinion: Some criminal justice paradoxes. Contemporary Politics, 9(2), 143 – 155.
Payne, A.A., & Salotti, S. (2007). A Comparative Analysis of Social Learning and Social Control Theories in the Prediction of College Crime. Deviant Behavior, 28(6), 553 – 573.
Rogers, J.D. (1989). Theories of crime and development: A historical perspective. Journal of Development Studies, 25(3), 314 – 328.
Watt, B., Howells, K., & Delfabbro, P. (2004). Juvenile Recidivism: Criminal Propensity, Social Control and Social Learning Theories. Psychiatry, Psychology and Law, 11(1), 141 – 153.