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Forensic Psychology: The Theories of why people offend

forensic psychology, crime, psychology crime, criminal psychology

Hi everyone, I hope you're having a great day.

Today's post is on Forensic Psychology and the theories of offending.

In this Forensic Psychology blog post, we'll look at a few theories but you can find a lot ore in my book: Forensic Psychology.

Extract from Forensic Psychology:

chapter 1: development of offending: theories and prespectives

Why do criminals offend?

That will be our focus in this chapter.

There are many theories about why people offend. Resulting in these theories being put into categories.

For example:

· Individual- these theories focus on the reasons for offending at an individual level.

· Group- these theories focus on the offending at the social group level.

· Community influence- these focus on different areas that provide people with different opportunities to commit crimes.

· Societal and macro levels- these theories state that society is constructed in a way that creates crime.

Then these categories can be further broken down into different perspective despite these categories being perspectives in themselves.

· Individual

· Genetic

· History

· Deviant

· Focuses on individual

· Groups and socialisation theories

All perspectives are useful but hard to part them together to form one holistic theory of offending.

Theories of offending:

Now that we’ve covered the different perspectives that a researcher can take in order to investigate why offending occurs. We can begin to look at some theories.

Social Learning Theory:

This theory states that we learn by observing others and their consequences in its simplest form.

For more information, please check out Sociocultural Psychology by Connor Whiteley.

As a part of Social Learning Theory, Bandura, Ross and Ross (1963) state that having a model is important to learn behaviour from.

For example, we learn directly from family and friends.

In addition, reinforcers work well with this theory as reinforcers can be used to show that the watched behaviour is good.

Examples of reinforcers include:

· Sex

· Social acceptance

· Money

· Social approvals

Linking to offending:

Social Learning Theory can be used to explain offending because the theory states if a child; for instance; watches their brothers or sisters commit crimes without receiving negative consequences. Then the child will learn that this is acceptable and wish to copy it.

This desire to copy the behaviour is even stronger when a reinforcer is involved.

Such as: if the parents were giving the brothers and sisters money for stealing, or even something as simple as love.

Evaluation of Social Learning Theory as an offending theory:

Whilst, social learning is useful as it explains the processes of learning complex behaviour and how it links to offending as well as there is no need to assume the offender has a pathology.

The theory doesn’t explain what conditions are needed for people to learn criminality.

In case, you’re confused about the negative of Social learning as I’ll use an example.

The example I’ve used is for all intents and purposes made up where I have just applied what social learning theory states and I’ve applied it to offended.

Nowhere in the original study or theory does it outline criminality.

Cognitive theories of crimes:

Throughout this series, I hope that I have shown you the power of mental processes also known as cognition as it applies to memory, mental disorders, health and more.

For that reason, it wouldn’t be right if I didn’t include cognitive psychology in this book.


Whenever people see a criminal many of them think that the criminal has low intelligence and that’s the reason why they committed the crime.

Yet I will ask you the following questions…

Do white-collar criminals have low intelligence?

Do world leaders who commit crimes have low intelligence?

Does a doctor who is a criminal have low intelligence?

Overall, I hope that those questions begin to help you to understand that criminals don’t always have low levels of intelligence.

In fact, most of the time criminals have average or high levels of intelligence.

However, the general theory of intelligence is that having a lower IQ means that you have

poorer marketable skills leading to an increased risk of unemployment. Leading to a poor ability to avoid risks as you need money to survive so you get caught easier as you don’t have the intelligence to avoid getting caught.

Overall, this theory is a controversial hypothesis with weak support and a weak correlation with crime.

Self-regulation and risk behaviour:

Another cognitive theory of offending is that a lack of self-regulation and an increase in risky behaviour leads to offending.

Self-regulation is the ability to control your own behaviour and some research links low self-regulation with aggression as well as self-regulation is a limited resource.

Therefore, the theory states that if you use up your self-regulation and have a decreased amount of it then you may be more likely to commit inappropriate or criminal behaviour.

Though, whether self-regulation is a limited resource is still being debated.

Biological theories of crime:

Our biology can influence many factors that relate to human behaviour as explained in my Biological Psychology book.

As a result, some crimes could be biology-related.

Although, it must be noted all behaviours and crimes have biological and environmental causes.

One example of this is aggression-based crimes as testosterone can impact aggression levels.

Furthermore, Forsman and Langstorm (2012) suggested that genetics could play a role in adult violence across generations.

Thus, when combined with the fact that the inheritability of aggression is about 50%. It makes a good case for a biological cause for aggression.

On the other hand, servals genes are involved in aggression probably through the production of neurotransmitters and hormones, so testosterone isn’t the only factor in aggression.

Overall, the theory suggests that testosterone causes offending because the testosterone causes aggression levels to increase. Making a person more likely to become aggressive

and commit a violent crime.

For more information on aggression please check out Sociocultural Psychology by Connor Whiteley.

Biosocial theory of crime:

Personally, I love this theory as it’s holistic, so it doesn’t reduce the cause of a behaviour down to one singular cause.

However, as this theory is very long and detailed. We won’t go into too much depth.

This theory was proposed by Eysenck as well as it combines both biological causes and environmental causes to produce a criminal act.

In more detail, the theory states that biological factors have a big impact, but that impact depends on external factors to various degrees.

Evaluation of the Biosocial Theory:

Whilst, the theory has good scope. It’s far too broad and it cannot explain many aspects of


Theories of Violent offending:

When it comes to violent offending, biological theories get a lot of criticism as most violence is instrumental.

Basically, we learn violence by observing others.

Equally, when we try to categorise types of violent offenders, we encounter problems as typologies assume that people stick to one type. When offenders could show characteristics of many types.

Do violent video games increase aggression?

The idea behind violent video games increasing aggression is that the player practices and repeats the violent behaviour.

Leading to the reinforcement of the behaviour because it makes you feel good and the repetition leads to you developing a mental script of the behaviour. Meaning that you know how you’re meant to act in a certain context. In this case, the context is violence.

Moreover, you become more desensitised to violence and aggression as the video game exposures you to violence more.

Overall, you repeat the violence, develop a mental script so you know how to be violent and you become desensitised so in the real world you are less inhibited and you know exactly what to do.

For instance: you know how to beat someone to death, and you know how to shoot up a school. Due to you have learned how to shoot guns in games.

Reality check:

However, this effect seems to be small.

Equally, the effect may be small but think about the millions that play violent video games, even if this effect is small.

It will still affect thousands of people.

Ultimately, it is probably a combination of things that leads to an increase in violence and not only video games.

I hope you've enjoyed today's blog post and if you want to find out more about Forensic Psychology and why people commit crimes then please check out my book: Forensic Psychology.

Have a great day everyone!

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