When delinquents commit crime many people question whether the offender is physically or mentally abnormal, has any intelligence or a personality that reflects their abnormal behaviour. These psychological trait theories (approaches) are all linked to ones human behaviour (Wilson, Herrnstain 2007, p 33-34). Undoubtedly these theories reflect society’s common conception that most criminals lack intelligence, are emotionally unstable and cannot mentally control themselves.
Unlike choice theories, where people make rational decisions on whether a certain crime is worth the reward they are risking for, and sociological theories, based on whether a person’s behaviour is affected by the environment they live in, trait theories focus on psychological factors that individuals may have little control over (Regoli 2007 p86). Research has found that low intelligence and crime can be strongly linked together (Quay 1987). Spanish physician Juan Harte defined, “intelligence” as the ability to learn, exercise judgement, and be imaginative.
Over the years many scientists have studied and developed tests that have measured our intelligence. One of the earliest experiments undertaken by Charles Goring who studied 3,000 English convicts showed that crime was linked with low intelligence. Older methods that were used to find out ones intelligence included measuring one’s skull size and testing their ability to memorise. One of the most well known tests, developed late in the nineteenth century by Alfred Binet and Theodore Simon, is the Intelligence Quotient (IQ) (Blocher 2000).
Several forms of research have been conducted to find out how much of a correlation there was between IQ and crime. Studies conducted between 1910 -1914 found that 51 percent of delinquents institutionalised were considered to have a low intelligence (Sutherland 1931 p. 358). Edwin Sutherland debated those statistics and through his own research, compared the general population by selecting, army draftees, with institutionalised delinquents. He tested the IQ of each individual and found that the results were identical.
Therefore he stated that intelligence was not a, “generally important cause of delinquency” (Sutherland 1931 p. 362). No theorists publicly questioned Sutherland’s research until the mid 1970’s. Sociologist’s Travis Hirschi and Michael Hindelang re-examined in 1977 many of the previous studies conducted by established theorists and found that there was a relationship between IQ and delinquency (Hirschi 1969). Hirschi and Hindelang’s investigation found that was a difference of 8 IQ points between offenders and non offenders (Hirschi and Hindelang 1977).
They suggested that calculating an individual’s IQ is a better form of measurement in determining criminal behaviour than focusing on ones social class or race, two elements that are represented heavily in criminological theory. Many investigations then commenced examining the link between an individual’s IQ and behaviour. Researchers Michael Rutter and Henri Giller found that those with a low IQ, suffered academically at school, and their poor results negatively affected them emotionally and mentally, which can lead to inappropriate and criminal behaviour (Rutter and Giller 1983).
The National Collaborative Perinatal Project showed that juvenile delinquency was more likely to happen to those kids aged 4 who scored a low IQ (Lipsitt P ; Buka S ; Lipsitt L 1990). This study, which shows the extraordinary efforts researchers go to, followed over 56,000 pregnant women between 1959 – 1966 and their children until they were seven years old. Over 3,164 people who were all aged 18 were selected for further analysis. Records showed that 431 of the 3,164 were convicted delinquents.
The test scores they achieved during their childhood revealed that those delinquents began to show an intellectual disadvantage when 4 years old and sustained it at 7 years of age. Interestingly though these results could only be associated with males because no relationship could be found in females (Lipsitt P ; Buka S ; Lipsitt L 1990). Research on this topic has continued and results have shown that IQ and criminal behaviour could be influenced by friends, family, social environments or temperament. Many researchers have proposed ideas that would improve society’s beliefs on intelligence and the effect it may have on individuals.
One proposal that was mentioned and featured heavily identified the flaws within our education systems and the importance of instructing our teachers how much of an effect they have when negatively labelling students. I wholeheartedly concur with this idea and believe that many teachers do not understand the consequences their words may have on a student’s belief in themselves and their ability. Articles such as, ‘Negative Labels can be harmful’ written by Linda Weaver Clarke and published in the American Chronicle explains itself by its title.
It is important though, that pieces of writing like these are widely available for people to read. It does highlight how important it is for parents to continuously monitor their children and their school environment. Linda Weaver Clarke interestingly provided an example where her husband said that he most remembered from his time at school, how a teacher would continuously label one of his classmates as a, ‘dummy’ and how, ‘sorry’ he had felt for him (American Chronicle 2007). Just imagine how the boy was thinking? He could have been on the verge of suicide?
Trait theorists have concluded from research undertaken by psychologist Sigmund Freud that criminal behaviour can be associated with an individual’s personality (Kline 1987). Freud who published in 1910, ‘The Interpretation of Dreams’ and in 1923, ‘The Ego and the ID’ developed the, ‘psychoanalytical theory’ which suggested that unconscious mental forces arisen from childhood shape the personality. Freud who developed the theory to understand the irregular behaviour of some of his institutionalised patients, identified three parts within the personality: the id, the ego and the superego.
The, ‘id’ operates on no boundaries and limitations and is the uncoordinated part of the personality which relies on instincts. From the, ‘id’ develops the, ‘ego’ which organises and provides both the, ‘id’ and ‘superego’ with realistic views that censor those unrealistic satisfactions. The, ‘superego’ developed from the, ‘ego’ contains all the rules and values acquired from a person’s family and social environments. The, ‘superego’ effects the emotions people feel when making irresponsible decisions.
All three parts of the personality must function together for an individual to be mentally healthy. Obviously if there is trouble between the three parts, it is possible the person will become unstable and likely commit criminal behaviour. Many theorists however do not subscribe to Freud’s, ‘psychoanalytical theory’ believing that it is difficult to logically understand and observe. I myself did not know what an, ‘id’ was before further investigation? There are not many empirical tests and there is no compelling evidence that suggest psychoanalytic theories effect criminal behaviour.
Another theory of personality created by Hans Eysenck focused on three significant functions of personality – psychoticism (P), neuroticism (N), and extraversion (E). Eysenck developed a personality questionnaire where results determined certain traits connected with the three temperaments. Those who scores reflected Psychoticism, are likely to be aggressive, careless, uncompassionate, manipulative and troublesome. High extraversion scorers are likely to be, irresponsible, social, optimistic, active and impulsive. High neuroticism scorers are likely to be, anxious, depressed, restless, rigid and moody.
People who scored high on all three temperaments were likely to have a greater chance of antisocial behaviour while those who scored low on all three temperaments, had a smaller chance of committing criminal behaviour (Feldman 1993). Researchers continued to perform tests that showed how personality was linked with criminal behaviour. Criminologists, Eleanor and Sheldon Glueck used Hermann Rorschach inkblot test, which is still currently used in forensics to determine the personality traits of people, on a group of a thousand youths. 00 of them were delinquents and the other 500 were non delinquents.
Results from the test showed that those in the delinquent group had personality problems which made them feel dejected and unstable. Professor of Psychological Criminology David Farrington found that criminal’s had common personality traits which showed that they are impulsive, hyperactive short thinking individuals who suffer from anxiety disorders, conduct disorders and depression (Farrington 1988). Individuals who possess these traits are deemed to have an antisocial, sociopathic, or psychopathic personality (Lykken 1996).
Many other personality questionnaires such as the Multidimensional Personality Questionnaire (MPQ) and Minnesota Multivariate Personality Inventory (MPPI) were developed to help distinguish whether there was relationship between personality and criminal behaviour. The MPQ, which tested 18 year old males and females on ten personality traits, found that those youths involved in anti-social behaviour, alienated themselves from others and were risk takers. The MPPI is the most used personality test in psychological institutions. It is designed to help identify those individuals who possess behavioural, social and personal problems.
It important to understand that possessing certain traits which reflect these approaches does not necessarily mean that the individual will become or is a criminal; they just have a greater chance of being one. The World Health Organisation defined a mental disorder as, “the existence of a clinically recognisable set of symptoms or behaviours associated in most cases with distress and with interference with personal functions. ” There has been much debate as to whether those individuals mentally ill have a greater chance of committing crimes due to behavioural, cognitive and emotional disorders that affect their lives.
A research paper titled, ‘The Identification of Mental Disorders in the Criminal Justice System’ undertaken with the assistance from the Criminology Research Council suggests that criminal offenders have higher rates of mental illness than the general community (Ogloff, Davis, Rivers, Ross 2007). Australian research found that during 1968 – 1981, 16 per cent of homicide offenders had a type of mental disorder (Wallace 1986). Other research showed that during the same period more than 20 per cent of the Australian population had psychiatric problems (Krupinski ; Stoller 1971).
A study conducted between 1993 – 1995 involving individuals that were found guilty of murder in the Victorian County and Supreme Courts, found that 25% of the criminals had prior contact with a mental institution but this was mainly due to drug abuse, therefore justifying how mental illness was only relatively linked with crime (Wallace 1998). Just this year, The Australian Bureau of Statistics, recently released figures that state that half the Australian population suffer from a common mental health problem.
Nevertheless, these results not only suggest that mental illness occurs highly in Australia but that if many people suffer from it, we can assume that there is a greater chance of increased criminal behaviour. ABS figures show that in 2007 45 per cent of Australians aged between 16 and 86 had experienced mental disorders. It’s fascinating to see how much of a change there has been considering how statistics showed completely different results in previous years (News Limited 2009). The ABS report found that anxiety orders had increased greatly, with this due to a range of reasons from the financial crisis to global warming (News Limited 2009).
Has mental disorder increased due to the stressful experiences that life has offered? Why is there now such a large proportion of Australians who suffer from mental disorders? How can there be such a radical change from results found in previous studies? Interestingly we can link ones personality to their vulnerability in developing a mental disorder. The recent, ‘Black Saturday’ bushfires in Melbourne once again put under the spotlight arsonists who are generally perceived as people who suffer from personality disorders.
Work, family and social relationships can impact those who suffer from a personality disorder. The disorder could affect one’s life for a long amount of time or may occasionally affect the individual. Those that suffer from personality disorders show signs of being emotionally unstable as well behave unacceptable to others while interacting. Research done by Johnson, Cohen, Smailes, Kasen, Oldham, Skodol, Brook (2000) found that those who suffered from a personality disorder were more likely to commit crime. Overall it is evident that trait approaches are involved in many criminal cases.
These approaches that can be seen in all types of crime have been debated for years however as society has developed, so has the realisation that these trait approaches cause criminal behaviour. Just looking at articles such as, ‘Negative labels can be harmful’ and studies from the Australia Bureau of Statistics regarding mental illness made me realise just how much these approaches explain crime. These pieces of information are not in newspapers and on the internet for no reason. The media knows that must inform people that traits and crime are heavily linked together.