Psychological Explanations of Offending (Forensic Psychology Model Answers) (Paper 3 Model Answers)

Describe psychodynamic explanation(s) for offending behaviour.( 6 marks) 

Model Answer

Psychodynamic explanations for offending behavior delve into the workings of the unconscious mind and how it influences criminal tendencies. One aspect of psychodynamic explanations is based on the superego, which is responsible for moral standards and the control of impulsive urges. According to this perspective, offending behavior may arise when the superego is inadequately controlled or moderated. There are different ways in which the superego can be deviant or underdeveloped, leading to criminal behavior. For example, during the Phallic stage, if a child identifies with a deviant parent, their superego may become deviant as well, leading to a lack of internalized moral values. Similarly, if a child fails to fully identify with a positive role model during the Phallic stage, their superego may be weak or underdeveloped. On the other hand, an over-harsh superego that is excessively punitive can also drive individuals to commit crimes as a way to fulfil their unconscious desire for punishment.

Another psychodynamic explanation for offending behaviour is rooted in attachment theory, particularly Bowlby's concept of maternal deprivation. Bowlby proposed that when individuals experience maternal deprivation, which involves a lack of emotional bond and care from a primary caregiver, it can lead to long-lasting consequences. Affectionless psychopathy and delinquency are among the potential outcomes of maternal deprivation. The disrupted attachment relationship during early development can hinder the development of a healthy conscience and empathy, contributing to a higher risk of engaging in delinquent or criminal behavior.

Researchers studied three generations of several families, noting the frequency and type of offending. They found that sons and grandsons of offenders often committed similar crimes themselves. The researchers also interviewed people who knew the families, such as friends and neighbours. Most friends and neighbours were not concerned by the offending behaviour, and some said it was a good way to behave in the circumstances.

Describe differential association theory in the context of offending. Refer to the study above in your answer.

(Total 8 marks)

Model Answer

Differential association theory, proposed by Edwin Sutherland, suggests that individuals learn criminal behavior through their interactions with others and the social environment in which they are embedded. According to this theory, criminal behavior is not solely determined by individual traits or biology but is influenced by the people one associates with and the values and norms they uphold. The study described above provides support for differential association theory in the context of offending.

The findings from the study, which observed three generations of families and their patterns of offending, indicate that there is a strong intergenerational transmission of criminal behavior. Sons and grandsons of offenders were more likely to engage in similar types of crimes, suggesting that the learned behavior was passed down through family socialisation and interaction. This aligns with the core tenet of differential association theory that criminal behavior is acquired through socialisation processes and the exposure to criminal norms and values within one's social network.

Moreover, the interviews conducted with friends and neighbours of the families provide further evidence for differential association theory. The fact that most of the individuals in the social environment of the families were not concerned by the offending behavior and, in some cases, even endorsed it as an appropriate response to the circumstances demonstrates the influence of social learning and the acceptance of criminal behavior within certain social circles. This supports the idea that individuals acquire criminal behavior through their associations with others who uphold criminal norms and provide reinforcement or justification for engaging in illegal activities.

 

Which two of the following statements about Eysenck’s theory of the criminal personality are TRUE? ( 2 marks)

Shade two boxes only.

Model Answer

B & E

 

Describe and evaluate cognitive explanations for offending.

(Total 16 marks)

Model Answer

Cognitive explanations for offending focus on how individuals' cognitive processes, including their moral reasoning and cognitive distortions, contribute to criminal behavior. One aspect of cognitive explanations is the role of moral reasoning, as proposed by Lawrence Kohlberg. At the pre-conventional level of moral reasoning, individuals are primarily concerned with avoiding punishment and seeking rewards. This orientation suggests that offenders may engage in criminal behavior because they prioritise personal gain and lack a developed sense of moral principles.

Another cognitive distortion that has been linked to offending is the hostile attribution bias. This bias involves misinterpreting or misreading the actions, words, or expressions of others as aggressive or provocative, leading to a heightened tendency to respond with aggression. Offenders with a hostile attribution bias may perceive threats where they do not exist, leading to a greater likelihood of engaging in violent or aggressive acts.

Additionally, cognitive distortions such as minimalisation play a role in offending behavioir. Minimalisation involves downplaying the significance or seriousness of one's own offenses. Offenders who engage in minimalisation may rationalise their actions, believing that their offenses are trivial or inconsequential. By minimising the importance of their criminal acts, individuals can justify their behaviour and alleviate feelings of guilt or responsibility.

In evaluating cognitive explanations for offending, one limitation is the focus on individual cognitive processes while neglecting other influential factors such as social and environmental influences. Criminal behavior is often influenced by a complex interplay of various factors, including social and economic circumstances, upbringing, and peer influences. By solely attributing offending behavior to cognitive processes, these explanations may overlook the broader sociocultural context that shapes an individual's behavior.

Another limitation is the reliance on self-report measures and the potential for individuals to provide socially desirable responses, particularly when it comes to minimising their offenses. Self-report data may not accurately reflect the true extent or nature of an individual's criminal behavior, as individuals may underreport or distort information to maintain a positive self-image or avoid legal consequences.

Furthermore, cognitive explanations do not account for the diversity and heterogeneity of offenders. Individuals differ in their cognitive abilities, moral reasoning, and cognitive biases, and not all individuals with similar cognitive patterns engage in criminal behavior. Other factors, such as personality traits, mental health issues, and social support systems, may interact with cognitive processes to shape offending behavior.

 

Outline one cognitive distortion shown by offenders who attempt to justify their crime. (2 marks) 

Model Answer

One cognitive distortion commonly shown by offenders attempting to justify their crimes is minimisation. Minimisation involves downplaying or minimising the significance, impact, or severity of their actions. Offenders may engage in minimisation to reduce feelings of guilt, evade responsibility, or maintain a positive self-image. They may attribute their behavior to external factors, rationalise their actions as less harmful than they actually are, or focus on mitigating circumstances to diminish the perceived wrongdoing. Minimisation allows offenders to distort their perception of the harm caused and the moral implications of their behaviour.

 

(a)  Briefly outline differential association theory as an explanation for offending. ( 2 marks) 

Model Answer

Differential association theory proposes that individuals learn deviant or criminal behavior through their social interactions and associations with others. According to this theory, individuals are more likely to engage in criminal activities if they are exposed to a higher frequency of favorable attitudes and definitions towards law-breaking rather than to pro-social values. The theory suggests that criminal behavior is not solely a result of individual characteristics or biological factors, but rather it is acquired through a process of learning and exposure to deviant influences within social groups.

 

(b)  Briefly explain one limitation of this theory. ( 2 marks) 

Model Answer

One limitation of the differential association theory is that it does not fully address the issue of self-selection bias. This means that individuals who engage in criminal activities may actively seek out and associate with others who already have criminal values and behaviours. In other words, the theory does not adequately explain why individuals initially choose to associate with deviant individuals or groups. It is possible that individuals with pre-existing criminal tendencies may actively seek out social environments that reinforce and validate their criminal behaviors, rather than simply being influenced by their surroundings.

Discuss psychodynamic explanations of offending behaviour.

(Total 8 marks)

Model Answer

Psychodynamic explanations of offending behavior draw on psychoanalytic theories to understand the underlying psychological processes that contribute to criminal behavior. According to psychodynamic theories, such as Freud's psychoanalysis, the development of criminal behavior is influenced by unconscious conflicts, early childhood experiences, and the dynamics of the individual's personality structure. One key aspect of psychodynamic explanations is the emphasis on the superego, which represents the internalised moral values and standards. Deviant superego formation can occur due to identification with deviant or antisocial parents, leading to a weakened or underdeveloped conscience. This can result in the individual lacking a strong internal moral compass and engaging in criminal activities to fulfil unconscious desires for punishment or to seek gratification that is not easily attainable through socially acceptable means.

Psychodynamic theories recognize the complexity of human behavior and the potential impact of unresolved psychological conflicts on criminal tendencies. They also highlight the significance of individual differences and subjective experiences in understanding criminal behavior, moving beyond simplistic explanations solely based on external factors.

However, psychodynamic explanations face criticisms in terms of empirical evidence and testability. Many of the concepts and constructs within psychodynamic theories are difficult to measure objectively and are often based on case studies or retrospective accounts.

Additionally, the focus on unconscious processes and early experiences may overlook the role of other influential factors, such as social and environmental influences, which play a crucial role in shaping criminal behavior.

Overall, while psychodynamic explanations offer valuable insights into the psychological underpinnings of offending behavior, they should be considered as one perspective among multiple approaches in understanding the complex nature of crime.

 

Discuss Eysenck’s theory of the criminal personality. Refer to evidence in your answer.

(Total 16 marks)

Model Answer

Eysenck's theory of the criminal personality posits that personality is innate and that individuals inherit a type of nervous system that predisposes them to engaging in criminal behavior. He identified three key dimensions of personality: neuroticism/stability, extraversion/introversion, and psychoticism. According to Eysenck, individuals who exhibit high levels of neuroticism and extraversion are more likely to be involved in criminal activities. Neuroticism leads to unstable and unpredictable behavior, while extraversion is associated with a chronically under-aroused nervous system, leading to sensation-seeking tendencies.

Eysenck argued that extraverts have difficulty learning from their mistakes and do not condition easily. Lastly, individuals high in psychoticism are described as cold and heartless offenders. Research by McGurk and McDougall (1981) has shown that delinquent populations tend to have higher scores on the neuroticism dimension.

When discussing Eysenck's theory of the criminal personality, there are several strengths to consider. First, the theory emphasises the role of innate biological factors in shaping personality and predisposing individuals to criminal behavior. This perspective highlights the importance of understanding the interplay between genetics and behavior in explaining criminal tendencies.

Second, Eysenck's theory provides a clear framework for understanding how specific personality traits, such as neuroticism and extraversion, may contribute to criminal behavior. The theory offers testable hypotheses that can be empirically investigated, allowing for potential insights into the underlying mechanisms of criminality.

However, there are also limitations to Eysenck's theory. One limitation is the oversimplification of criminal behavior by reducing it to a few personality dimensions. Criminality is a complex phenomenon influenced by multiple factors, including social, cultural, and environmental aspects, which are not adequately accounted for in Eysenck's theory. Additionally, the theory's heavy reliance on self-report measures and subjective assessments of personality traits may introduce biases and inaccuracies. Furthermore, the research evidence supporting Eysenck's theory has been mixed, with inconsistent findings and variations across different populations. This raises questions about the generalisability and reliability of the theory's predictions.

 

Outline and compare two explanations for offending. Refer to evidence in your answer.

(Total 16 marks)

Model Answer

Two explanations for offending behavior that can be compared are biological explanations and Eysenck's theory of personality. Biological explanations focus on the role of genetics and neurological mechanisms in influencing criminal behavior. Evidence from twin and adoption studies has shown that there is a higher concordance rate for criminal behavior among identical twins compared to fraternal twins, suggesting a genetic influence. Additionally, studies on neurological mechanisms have highlighted abnormalities in brain structures such as the amygdala and frontal lobe volume/activity in individuals who engage in criminal activities. The brain maturation retardation hypothesis proposes that individuals with antisocial personality disorder (APD) have slower brain development, which may contribute to their criminal behavior. The presence of chromosomal XYY has also been associated with an increased likelihood of aggressive and antisocial behavior.

On the other hand, Eysenck's theory of personality offers an alternative explanation for offending behavior. Eysenck proposed that individuals with a specific combination of high neuroticism and high extraversion are more prone to engage in criminal activities. Neuroticism, characterized by emotional instability and impulsivity, may contribute to unstable and unpredictable behavior that can lead to criminal acts. Extraversion, associated with low arousal levels, may drive individuals to seek stimulation and excitement through sensation-seeking behaviors, including criminal acts. Eysenck also introduced the dimension of psychoticism, which suggests that individuals high on this trait exhibit cold and heartless behavior, potentially contributing to their involvement in criminal activities.

When comparing these two explanations, several points can be highlighted. Both biological explanations and Eysenck's theory emphasise the role of innate factors in shaping criminal behavior. Biological explanations focus on genetic and neurological influences, while Eysenck's theory emphasises personality traits. Both perspectives have empirical support, with studies providing evidence for genetic predispositions and the influence of neuroticism and extraversion on criminal behavior. However, biological explanations provide a broader framework, considering factors beyond personality traits, such as brain structures and chromosomal abnormalities. Eysenck's theory, although more focused on personality, offers a more specific and nuanced understanding of how particular personality traits may contribute to criminal tendencies.

In terms of limitations, both explanations have their drawbacks. Biological explanations may overlook the influence of social and environmental factors in shaping criminal behavior. They also face challenges in determining the precise mechanisms through which genetic and neurological factors translate into criminal acts. Eysenck's theory, while providing insights into the role of personality, may oversimplify the complex nature of criminal behavior by focusing on a limited set of traits. It may not fully capture the multifaceted interactions between individual characteristics and external factors.

 

Outline Eysenck’s theory of the criminal personality.( 2 marks)

Model Answer

 Eysenck's theory of the criminal personality suggests that personality traits play a significant role in predisposing individuals to engage in criminal behavior. According to Eysenck, the criminal personality is characterised by a combination of high neuroticism and high extraversion. Neuroticism refers to emotional instability and impulsivity, while extraversion reflects low arousal levels and a propensity for sensation-seeking. This theory proposes that individuals with this particular personality profile are more likely to engage in criminal activities.

 

Briefly discuss two criticisms of Eysenck’s theory of the criminal personality. ( 4 marks) 

Model Answer

Firstly, critics argue that the theory oversimplifies the complex nature of human behavior by reducing criminal tendencies to a few personality dimensions. It neglects the influence of social, environmental, and cultural factors that also contribute to criminal behavior. Additionally, the theory has faced challenges regarding the measurement of personality traits. Some researchers question the validity and reliability of Eysenck's scales used to assess neuroticism, extraversion, and psychoticism, which raises concerns about the accuracy of his conclusions.

Another criticism pertains to the generalisability of Eysenck's theory. While he claimed that high neuroticism and high extraversion are indicative of the criminal personality, empirical evidence has shown that these traits alone do not consistently predict criminal behavior across different populations and cultures. The theory fails to account for variations in criminal tendencies among individuals with different personality profiles. Moreover, critics argue that Eysenck's theory lacks a comprehensive explanation of the underlying mechanisms and processes through which personality traits interact with other factors to influence criminal behavior. It does not provide a nuanced understanding of the complex interplay between biology, psychology, and social context in shaping criminal tendencies.

 

Discuss psychodynamic explanations of offending.( 16 marks) 

Model Answer

Psychodynamic explanations of offending behavior focus on the role of the superego and attachment experiences in shaping criminal tendencies. According to these explanations, the superego, which represents the internalised moral standards and values, is crucial in regulating and controlling impulsive and aggressive desires originating from the id. Deviations in the development and functioning of the superego can contribute to criminal behavior. In some cases, the superego may be insufficiently controlled or moderated due to problems in the development of moral principles during the Phallic stage of psychosexual development.

One aspect of the psychodynamic explanation is the notion of a deviant superego resulting from identification with a deviant parent. If an individual identifies strongly with a parent who engages in criminal behaviour, their superego may adopt deviant moral values, leading to a greater likelihood of engaging in criminal acts. Conversely, an under-developed or weak superego can result from a failure to fully internalize societal moral standards during the Phallic stage. This weak superego leaves individuals with a reduced sense of guilt and moral constraint, making them more prone to engaging in criminal behaviours.

Another aspect of psychodynamic explanations is the concept of an over-harsh or overdeveloped superego. In such cases, the superego is excessively punitive and demanding, leading individuals to unconsciously seek punishment through criminal acts. This desire for punishment may be rooted in unresolved psychological conflicts and unresolved feelings of guilt or shame.

Additionally, attachment-based explanations propose that early experiences of maternal deprivation, as theorised by John Bowlby, can contribute to the development of affectionless psychopathy and delinquency. According to this hypothesis, a lack of secure attachment during infancy can disrupt the formation of healthy emotional bonds and hinder the development of empathy and prosocial behaviors. This deprivation can lead to a disregard for social norms and an increased likelihood of engaging in delinquent or criminal behavior.

One limitation is the heavy reliance on retrospective accounts and case studies, which limits the generalisability and empirical support of these explanations. The subjective nature of psychodynamic concepts, such as the unconscious and superego, also makes it challenging to objectively measure and test these constructs. Furthermore, psychodynamic explanations tend to overlook the influence of external factors, such as socioeconomic status, peer influences, and systemic inequalities, which are known to contribute significantly to criminal behavior.

Another important aspect to consider when evaluating psychodynamic explanations of offending behavior is the lack of empirical evidence supporting some of the key concepts and assumptions. While psychodynamic theories provide valuable insights into the psychological processes underlying criminal behavior, their subjective nature and reliance on case studies limit the ability to test and validate their claims through rigorous scientific research. For instance, the concept of the superego and its impact on criminal behavior is difficult to measure objectively and quantitatively. The subjective nature of superego development and its deviations makes it challenging to establish clear causal relationships between superego dysfunction and criminal tendencies. Without robust empirical evidence, psychodynamic explanations can be criticised for relying heavily on clinical observations and subjective interpretations.

Moreover, the reliance on retrospective accounts and self-reports introduces potential biases and limitations in the accuracy of the information gathered. Memories can be distorted over time, and individuals may not have full awareness or accurate recollections of their early experiences or unconscious motivations. This raises concerns about the reliability and validity of the data used to support psychodynamic explanations of offending behaviour.

In light of these limitations, it is important to approach psychodynamic explanations with a critical lens and consider them as one piece of the broader puzzle of understanding criminal behavior. While the theory provides valuable insights into the internal psychological dynamics, it should be complemented with other theories and empirical research that examine the influence of social, environmental, and cognitive factors on offending behavior. Integrating multiple perspectives can lead to a more comprehensive and nuanced understanding of the complex phenomenon of criminal behaviour.

 

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