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Criminal psychology

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Criminal psychology, also referred to as criminological psychology, is the study of the views, thoughts, intentions, actions and reactions of criminals and suspects.[1][2] It is a subfield of criminology and applied psychology.

Criminal psychologists have many roles within legal courts, including being called upon as expert witnesses and performing psychological assessments on victims and those who have engaged in criminal behavior. Several definitions are used for criminal behavior, including behavior punishable by public law, behavior considered immoral, behavior violating social norms or traditions, or acts causing severe psychological harm. Criminal behavior is often considered antisocial in nature.[3] Psychologists also help with crime prevention and study the different types of programs that are effective to prevent recidivism,[4] and understanding which mental disorders criminals are likely to have.[5][6][7][8][9][10]



Criminal psychology started the late 18th century. The first seeds of forensic psychology were planted in 1879 when Wilhelm Wundt, often referred to as the father of psychology, founded his first lab in Germany. Before criminal psychology, there was a conflict in criminal law between medical experts and court judges on determining how to proceed with a majority of cases which specialized the development of a specialized field for individual investigations and assessments of suspects. It is generally accepted that criminal psychology was a predecessor to the broader field of criminology, which includes other fields such as criminal anthropology which studies more systemic aspects of crime as opposed to individual suspects and court cases.[11]



Criminal profiling, also known as offender profiling, is a form of criminal investigation, linking an offender's actions at the crime scene to possible characteristics. This is a practice that lies between the professions of criminology, forensic science and behavioral science.[12] Most commonly used for homicide and sexual cases, criminal profiling helps law enforcement investigators narrow down and prioritize a pool of suspects.[13] Part of a sub-field of forensic psychology called investigative psychology, criminal profiling has advanced substantially in methodology and grown in popularity since its conception in the late 1800s.[14] However, there is a substantial lack of empirical research and effectiveness evaluations validating the practice of criminal profiling.[13][15][16] Due to the lack of empirical research, it is important that criminal profiling is used as a tool in investigative cases.[17] Cases should not depend on solely the profile but as well as traditional techniques as well.

Criminal profiling is a process now known in the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) as criminal investigative analysis. (see also: FBI method of profiling) Profilers, or criminal investigative analysts, are trained and experienced law enforcement officers who study every behavioral aspect and detail of an unsolved violent crime scene, in which a certain amount of psychopathology has been left at the scene. The characteristics of a good profiler are discussed. Five behavioral characteristics that can be gleaned from the crime scene are described:

  1. amount of premeditation,
  2. degree of control used by the offender,
  3. escalation of emotion at the scene,
  4. risk level of both the offender and victim, and
  5. appearance of the crime scene (disorganized versus organized).

The process of interpreting the behavior observed at a crime scene is briefly discussed.[18]

In a 2017 article by Pew Research Center, it was found that federal and state prisons in the United States held 475,900 inmates who were African American and 436,500 who were white.[19] Similar historical data supports the substantially higher incarceration of African American people.[20] This is in contrast with census data which has placed the percentage of African American people at about 12% of the US population.[21] Negative ethnic stereotypes contribute to this disproportionate incarceration; it has served as a justification for the unofficial policies and practices of racial profiling by criminal justice practitioners.[22]

The cultural, environmental and traditional concepts of communities play a major role in individual psychology, providing profilers with a potential basis for behavioral patterns learned by offenders during their upbringing.[23] They also evaluate the safety of prisons for those incarcerated, as some individuals may be predisposed to recidivism if the prisoners' mental health is not adequately addressed. There are several individual factors contributing to developing a criminal profile that both meets legal requirements and treats individuals humanely.

Comparison to forensics


The effect of psychosocial factors on brain functioning and behavior is a central part of analysis for both forensic and criminal psychologists, under the category of applied psychology. For forensic psychiatry, major areas of criminal evaluations include assessing the ability of an individual to stand trial, providing an opinion on what the mental state of the individual was at the time of offense risk management for future offenses (recidivism), providing treatment to criminals including medication and psychotherapy, and being an expert witness. This process often involves psychological testing.[24] Forensic psychologists have similar roles to forensic psychiatrists, although are unable to prescribe medication. Criminal psychologists focus on research, profiling, and educating/assisting law enforcement with the detainment of suspects.[25]

Criminal and forensic psychologists may also consider the following factors:

  1. The current presence of mental disorders and disabilities
  2. The level of accountability or responsibility an individual has for a crime due to mental disorders
  3. Likelihood of recidivism and involved risk factors
  4. Epidemiology of related mental disorders under consideration
  5. The motivation behind why a crime was committed.[25]

Criminal psychology is also related to legal psychology, forensic psychology and crime investigations.

The question of competency to stand trial is to question of an offender's current state of mind. This assesses the offender's ability to understand the charges against them, the possible outcomes of being convicted/acquitted of these charges and their ability to assist their attorney with their defense. The question of sanity/insanity or criminal responsibility is an assessment of the offender's state of mind at the time of the crime. This refers to their ability to understand right from wrong and what is illegal. The insanity defense is rarely used, as it is very difficult to prove. If declared insane, an offender may be committed to a secure hospital facility, potentially for much longer than they would have served in prison.[24]

Crime Prevention


There are several programs that attempt to help teens and young adults that are having disciplinary problems and involvement with the law. These programs include Scared Straight, Boot Camps, and rehabilitation.[26] Research shows that these programs are ineffective or that they may even increase the likelihood of participants reoffending.[26] In order for these interventions to be effective the person needs to voluntarily accept treatment.[26] Research has shown that the most effective methods for preventing recidivism are Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) or rehabilitation programs that teach skills necessary to continue living after the duration of the programs.[26] There are several therapies that are used to help criminals:

  • Intensive Multimodal Cognitive Therapy
  • Anger Management
  • Motivational Interviewing
  • Dialectical Behavior Therapy
  • Schema Modal Therapy[27]
  • Functional Family Therapy
  • Group-Based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  • Mentorship Programs
  • Multidimensional Family Therapy[28]

The goal of these therapies is to help violent offenders cope and avoid committing crimes after being released.[27] Research on in-patient therapy methods showed to not help criminals.[27] There are risk management tools that are used to assess criminals or people who are becoming involved with the law.[27] There is evidence that these tools help with violence and crime, but health professionals have mixed reviews on if they are effective.[27] Research supports that Multisystemic Therapy did not have an effect on preventing crime or reoffending in juveniles.[28]

Different types of mental disorders within the system


The criminal justice system has a wide variety of people that are incarcerated, some of these people have mental illness or disabilities.[10] Some people that are in the system come from lower socioeconomic status and have childhood trauma that later results in mental illness, and this increases the likelihood of them being involved with the law at a young age.[10][9]

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is caused by a pregnant mother consuming alcohol.[8] This can cause the individual to have issues with decision-making, substance abuse, and the ability to function.[8] They are more likely to commit crimes around the age of 12, which can include drug offenses, shoplifting, and sex crimes.[8]

Some people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are incarcerated, but not more than a neurotypical person.[7] There is a difference though between gender and age.[7] Male teenagers are more likely to have altercations with the law.[7] When the altercations do occur they most often include crime relates to stalking, drugs, theft/property damage.[7]

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is another mental illness that inmates may have, and this can be co-morbid with other disorders, such as depression, anxiety, substance use and personality disorders.[6] The most common co-morbid disorders among criminals is depression and substance use disorder.[6] The inmates with PTSD are most likely to be violent with other inmates and commit more violent crimes.[6]

Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is another disorder that criminals are likely to have.[5] This disorder can also be co-morbid with disorders like conduct disorder and later on can develop into antisocial personality disorder.[5] People with ADHD often commit crimes such as assault, sex crimes, homicide, and drug charges.[5] After being released from jail/prison people with ADHD are more likely to reoffend quicker than inmates that do not have ADHD.[5]

Career paths


A bachelor's degree in psychology or criminal justice as well as a master's degree in a related field are needed in order to pursue a career in criminal psychology. A doctorate, either a Ph.D. or a Psy.D, typically yields higher pay and more lucrative job opportunities. In addition to degrees, a licensing exam is required by state or jurisdiction.[29]

Criminal profilers require a master's degree or a doctorate, several years of experience and in some cases passing state examinations to become a licensed psychologist.[30]

Criminal profilers can work in various settings including offices and courtrooms and can be employed at a number of institutions. Some include local, state, or federal government, and others can be self-employed as independent consultants. As of 2021, the average amount of a criminal psychologist is $58,246 and can increase to $95,000. Several factors contribute to how much a person makes within the field, including how much time a person has worked within the field, and the city with which a person works in. Criminal psychologists who work within larger cities tend to make more than psychologists who work in lower populated cities. Those who work for hospitals or federal government tend to have a lower salary.[31] Some of the top paying states for forensic psychologists are New Hampshire, Washington, New York, Massachusetts, and California.[32]

Forensic psychology careers include:[32]

  1. Correctional counselor
  2. Jail supervisor[33]
  3. Victim advocate
  4. Jury consultant
  5. Forensic social worker
  6. Expert witness
  7. Forensic psychology professor
  8. Forensic psychology researcher
  9. Forensic case manager
  10. Criminal profiler
  11. Forensic psychologist
  12. Correctional psychologist

Key studies


A number of key studies of psychology especially relevant to understanding criminal psychology have been undertaken. These include:[34][35]

See also



  1. ^ Richard N. Kocsis, Applied criminal psychology: a guide to forensic behavioral sciences, Charles C Thomas Publisher, 2009, pp.7
  2. ^ Andrews, D. A.; Bonta, James (2010). The Psychology of Criminal Conduct. Routledge. ISBN 9781437778984.
  3. ^ "Criminal Behavior". Criminal Psychology. Retrieved 2019-04-15.
  4. ^ Barnett, Georgia D.; Fitzalan Howard, Flora (2018-05-01). "What Doesn't Work to Reduce Reoffending?". European Psychologist. 23 (2): 111–129. doi:10.1027/1016-9040/a000323. ISSN 1016-9040. S2CID 149797829.
  5. ^ a b c d e Retz, Wolfgang; Ginsberg, Ylva; Turner, Daniel; Barra, Steffen; Retz-Junginger, Petra; Larsson, Henrik; Asherson, Phil (2021-01-01). "Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), antisociality and delinquent behavior over the lifespan". Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews. 120: 236–248. doi:10.1016/j.neubiorev.2020.11.025. ISSN 0149-7634. PMID 33271164. S2CID 227233870.
  6. ^ a b c d Facer-Irwin, Emma; Blackwood, Nigel J.; Bird, Annie; Dickson, Hannah; McGlade, Daniel; Alves-Costa, Filipa; MacManus, Deirdre (2019-09-26). "PTSD in prison settings: A systematic review and meta-analysis of comorbid mental disorders and problematic behaviours". PLOS ONE. 14 (9): e0222407. Bibcode:2019PLoSO..1422407F. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0222407. ISSN 1932-6203. PMC 6762063. PMID 31557173.
  7. ^ a b c d e King, Claire; Murphy, Glynis H. (2014-11-01). "A Systematic Review of People with Autism Spectrum Disorder and the Criminal Justice System". Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. 44 (11): 2717–2733. doi:10.1007/s10803-014-2046-5. ISSN 1573-3432. PMID 24577785. S2CID 254571891.
  8. ^ a b c d Flannigan, Katherine; Pei, Jacqueline; Stewart, Michelle; Johnson, Alexandra (2018-03-01). "Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder and the criminal justice system: A systematic literature review". International Journal of Law and Psychiatry. 57: 42–52. doi:10.1016/j.ijlp.2017.12.008. ISSN 0160-2527. PMID 29548503.
  9. ^ a b Folk, Johanna; Kemp, Kathlene; Yurasek, Allison; Barr-Walker, Jill; Tolou-Shams, Marina (2021). "Supplemental Material for Adverse Childhood Experiences Among Justice-Involved Youth: Data-Driven Recommendations for Action Using the Sequential Intercept Model". American Psychologist. doi:10.1037/amp0000769.supp. ISSN 0003-066X. S2CID 243272798.
  10. ^ a b c Baranyi, Gergő; Scholl, Carolin; Fazel, Seena; Patel, Vikram; Priebe, Stefan; Mundt, Adrian (2018). "Severe Mental Illness and Substance Use Disorders in Prisoners in Low- and Middle-Income Countries: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Prevalence Studies". SSRN Electronic Journal. doi:10.2139/ssrn.3235631. ISSN 1556-5068.
  11. ^ Vec, Milos (September 2007). "[The mind on the stage of justice: the formation of criminal psychology in the 19th century and its interdisciplinary research]". Berichte zur Wissenschaftsgeschichte. 30 (3): 235–254. doi:10.1002/bewi.200701101. ISSN 0170-6233. PMID 18173066.
  12. ^ Turvey, Brent E. (2011-03-09). Criminal Profiling: An Introduction to Behavioral Evidence Analysis. Academic Press. ISBN 978-0-12-385244-1.
  13. ^ a b Fox, Bryanna; Farrington, David P. (December 2018). "What have we learned from offender profiling? A systematic review and meta-analysis of 40 years of research". Psychological Bulletin. 144 (12): 1247–1274. doi:10.1037/bul0000170. ISSN 1939-1455. PMID 30475018. S2CID 53746560.
  14. ^ "Criminal Profiling: The Original Mind Hunter | Psychology Today United Kingdom". www.psychologytoday.com. Retrieved 2022-05-05.
  15. ^ Chifflet, Pascale (2015). "Questioning the validity of criminal profiling: an evidence-based approach". Australian & New Zealand Journal of Criminology. 48 (2): 238–255. doi:10.1177/0004865814530732. ISSN 0004-8658. S2CID 145585868.
  16. ^ Ribeiro, Rita Alexandra Brilha; Soeiro, Cristina Branca Bento de Matos (January 2021). "Analysing criminal profiling validity: Underlying problems and future directions". International Journal of Law and Psychiatry. 74: 101670. doi:10.1016/j.ijlp.2020.101670. ISSN 0160-2527. PMID 33341721. S2CID 229343858.
  17. ^ Ferguson, Claire (2014-01-01), Petherick, Wayne (ed.), "9 - Investigative Relevance", Profiling and Serial Crime (Third Edition), Boston: Academic Press, pp. 167–184, ISBN 978-1-4557-3174-9, retrieved 2023-02-21
  18. ^ O'Toole, Mary Ellen (2004). Pro-filers: Leading investigators take you inside the criminal mind. New York: Amherst, NY US: Prometheus Books. pp. 223–228. ISBN 978-1-59102-266-4.
  19. ^ Gramlich, John. "The gap between the number of blacks and whites in prison is shrinking". Pew Research Center. Retrieved 2022-05-07.
  20. ^ Western, Bruce; Wildeman, Christopher (January 2009). "The Black Family and Mass Incarceration". The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. 621 (1): 221–242. doi:10.1177/0002716208324850. ISSN 0002-7162. S2CID 53870729.
  21. ^ Western, Bruce; Wildeman, Christopher (January 2009). "The Black Family and Mass Incarceration". The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. 621 (1): 221–242. doi:10.1177/0002716208324850. ISSN 0002-7162. S2CID 53870729.
  22. ^ Welch, Kelly (August 2007). "Black Criminal Stereotypes and Racial Profiling". Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice. 23 (3): 276–288. doi:10.1177/1043986207306870. ISSN 1043-9862. S2CID 146764775.
  23. ^ Helms, Janet E.; Piper, Ralph E. (April 1994). "Implications of Racial Identity Theory for Vocational Psychology". Journal of Vocational Behavior. 44 (2): 124–138. doi:10.1006/jvbe.1994.1009. ISSN 0001-8791.
  24. ^ a b Turvey, Brent E. (2002). Criminal Profiling, 4th Edition An Introduction to Behavioral Evidence Analysis. California: Elseiver Science Ltd. ISBN 978-0127050416.
  25. ^ a b Singh, Dinesh (March 2018). "Criminal Psychology and its importance: A Review" (PDF). Innovative Research Thoughts. 4 (1): 218–222.
  26. ^ a b c d Barnett, Georgia D.; Fitzalan Howard, Flora (2018-05-01). "What Doesn't Work to Reduce Reoffending?". European Psychologist. 23 (2): 111–129. doi:10.1027/1016-9040/a000323. ISSN 1016-9040. S2CID 149797829.
  27. ^ a b c d e Papalia, Nina; Spivak, Benjamin; Daffern, Michael; Ogloff, James R. P. (February 2019). "A meta‐analytic review of the efficacy of psychological treatments for violent offenders in correctional and forensic mental health settings". Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice. 26 (2). doi:10.1111/cpsp.12282. ISSN 1468-2850. S2CID 151282417.
  28. ^ a b Olsson, Tina M.; Långström, Niklas; Skoog, Therése; Andrée Löfholm, Cecilia; Leander, Lina; Brolund, Agneta; Ringborg, Anna; Nykänen, Pia; Syversson, Anneth; Sundell, Knut (June 2021). "Systematic review and meta-analysis of noninstitutional psychosocial interventions to prevent juvenile criminal recidivism". Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. 89 (6): 514–527. doi:10.1037/ccp0000652. ISSN 1939-2117. PMID 34264699. S2CID 235960311.
  29. ^ "Criminal Psychology Careers | CareersinPsychology.org". careersinpsychology.org. 2017-09-15. Retrieved 2021-07-30.
  30. ^ "How to Become a Criminal Profiler". Criminal Justice Programs. Retrieved 2021-07-30.
  31. ^ "Criminal Psychologist Career: Job Duties, Skills & Education". www.psychologyschoolguide.net. Retrieved 2022-03-31.
  32. ^ a b "10 Top Career Paths in Forensic Psychology (2021 Update)". Psychology Degree Guide. Retrieved 2021-07-30.
  33. ^ "12 Different Career Paths With a Forensic Psychology Master's Degree". Insight Digital Magazine. 2017-04-17. Retrieved 2022-02-17.
  34. ^ Francis Pakes, Suzanne Pakes - Criminal Psychology published by Routledge 6 Dec 2012, 184 pages, ISBN 1135846073, Routledge Studies in Development and Society [Retrieved 2015-09-20]
  35. ^ Gross, Richard (14 August 2015). Psychology: The Science of Mind and Behaviour. Hachette UK. ISBN 978-1471829758. Retrieved 25 May 2019.

36. https://www.verywellmind.com/history-of-forensic-psychology-2795254 Kendra Cherry MsEd Retrieved 25 July 2023

  • David Canter (2008) Criminal Psychology London: Hodder Education