Criminal psychology: characteristics and objectives of this applied science

Criminal psychology it is a branch of psychology that focuses on studying the criminal process, explaining it, understanding how and why it happened, and thus trying to prevent it.

The history of this discipline is very long and the theories and fields of application of it are many and varied. Below, we’ll learn more about what this complex social science is all about.

    What is criminal psychology?

    Criminal psychology is a branch of psychology which it aims to study, understand and explain the origin of crime and crime. It also studies the motivations and personality of the offender, as well as the use of findings to prevent and control crime and rehabilitate the offender. Based on all this, the figure of the criminal psychologist stands out in prisons, mental health and courts, conducting interviews with those involved in crime and designing crime prevention programs.

    Criminal psychology is an applied social discipline which, relatively recently, has managed to become independent from other neighboring branches. Among those branches with which it is related we have legal psychology, forensic psychology, prison psychology and police psychology.

    historical origins

    The historical origins of criminal psychology are diverse, linked to other disciplines, in particular criminology, sociology and psychology. In fact, and in relation to the latter, criminal psychology could not have developed as it is today without psychology having developed as a science in general. One of the great stages of psychology, the creation of tests, has been widely used in criminal psychology. as an assessment of the criminal characteristics of the suspect in a crime.

    Hermann Ebbinghaus’s memory studies are one of the most important developments in criminal psychology. These were of great importance in evaluating eyewitness accounts, how they remember the criminal event and how to verify its veracity. It is also linked to psychology, specifically social, to the study of group dynamics, a growing interest in the study of decision-making by individuals involved in a criminal act.

    But in addition to the development of psychology itself, criminal psychology too it owes its maturity to various historical and social events. Among them is the feminist wave of the ’60s and’ 70s, as well as a greater sensitivity to child sexual abuse, a crime that was believed not to have such a high frequency.

    It is in this context that criminal psychology has sought to understand and combat crime, particularly sexual and gender-based crimes, with the intention of preventing it. All of this was aimed at developing and implementing treatments for abusers, and studying the ability of children to testify in court in the face of a traumatic experience.

    It cannot be ignored either that part of current criminal psychology has its roots in pseudoscience. Among them we have physiognomy, a discipline which considered that the body and the soul are in intimate relation, so that the deformations of the body were due to spiritual defects. With this we have the phrenology of Franz Joseph Gall, who developed a theory in which each psychic function corresponds to a part of the brain, and these can be observed in the skull, in the form of depressions and mounds along of the head.

    Another of the great contributions that criminal psychology has received has its origin in psychiatry. This discipline, at the time, distinguished between the mentally ill and delinquents. While it was argued that the crime had a psychopathological origin, as is the case with moral insanity proposed by James Cowles Prichard, this concept was eventually replaced by that of criminal personality during the 19th century. Thus, it was recognized that the criminal conduct was due to criminal traits present in the personality of the individual.

      Theories Related to Criminal Behavior

      As we have seen, criminal psychology is understood as the application of psychological knowledge to the understanding and explanation of criminal behavior. Although this definition is clear and unequivocal, there are many theories that attempt to explain the fact that a person commits a criminal act.

      From evolutionary psychology, the focus is on how developmental trajectories influence criminal behavior.. Emphasis is placed on environmental influences, such as coming from a low socio-economic background, not having received cultural stimulation, being subjected to careless parenting and low self-esteem. All of this can lead the individual to behave in a criminal manner, especially in adolescence.

      On the other hand, when it comes to social psychology, there are several theories that attempt to explain how criminal behavior occurs. Among them we have Festinger’s Social Attribution Theory, In which it is stated that people tend to attribute a cause, internal or external, such as the appearance of a behavior. Also, from the same author, we have the theory of cognitive dissonance, explained as the tendency of people to make a decision between two options which are evaluated in the same way and lead to psychological stress.

      As part of social psychology, we also have studies on social deindividualization, a process in which people lose their individual identity within a group, which can help them disconnect from society. This disconnection is a very important aspect in the study of crime because it can be a factor that makes the person more prone to commit crimes.

      In terms of personality psychology, we have the study of individual psychological characteristics. Criminal process-oriented personality psychology seeks to explain and find what specific personality traits make certain people more likely to commit criminal acts, with a very close relationship to self-control.

      Within clinical psychology we can highlight the study of psychopathology related to crime. Crime can be linked to certain mental disorders, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and mood disorders. They can also be related to the criminal process suffering from some type of intellectual disability or impulse control disorder, kleptomania, pyromania or autism spectrum disorder.

      Application areas

      Criminal psychology has many fields of application, the figure of the criminal psychologist in prisons, health centers and courts being particularly noteworthy.

      1. Criminal analysis

      Among the functions exercised within the framework of criminal psychology, one cannot ignore criminal analysis. This is one of the main reasons why psychology should be included in the criminological field., Since many people can be involved in a crime, both the perpetrator and the victim and the accomplices.

      Thus, criminal psychology analyzes delinquent behavior in different specific situations, in order to compare the data obtained with databases. If there are any coincidences, such as the weapons used, the type of victim (as in the case of serial killers), the modus operandi, the geographical location and other aspects that provide a basis to guide the investigation .

      Police investigation can also be included here, Including negotiating with criminals, working on the psychological content of different evidence or facts, studies on the structure of criminal gangs involved in crime or crime mapping.

      2. Criminal profiling

      Another application of criminal psychology is profiling criminal. This is an investigative technique that helps investigators get into the mind of the criminal, allowing them to identify their personality and behavioral characteristics, analyzing the crime and the scene of it.

      In this way, different aspects of the perpetrator’s personality or motivations can be known. For example, the crime may have been planned beforehand, or it may have been impulsive and passionate. It also takes into account the aggressor’s age, gender and the region in which he may live.

      3. Interviews with those involved in the crime

      Criminal psychology can be applied conduct interviews with offenders and victims, To get relevant and truthful information about the facts that happened.

      This takes into account the different needs of each person subjected to the crime. They have needs, abilities and characteristics to consider during the interview, such as a juvenile who has witnessed a crime, an offender who refuses to confess, a traumatized person.

      The interview in this area has its peculiarities, because in standard interviews, three issues involving inhibition in seeking information can be identified:

      • Frequent interruptions.
      • Wording of excessive questions.
      • Inadequate sequence of questions.

      All of this can lead to more vague and inaccurate information of little use for research.

      That is why in this type of interview, cognitive interview is generally used using different techniques. The first would be to mentally reconstruct the contexts of the crime, the second would be to leave “free memory” to the person, telling everything he remembers. The third is the “change of perspective”. The last is the “recollection in reverse order” whereby the facts are told differently from how they happened.

      4. Evaluation to be judged

      One of the skills of the criminal psychologist is to assess whether the defendant is fit to stand trial.

      We must assess whether the individual is capable of understanding the commission of the crime of which he is accused, whether he had the full powers to understand it at the time he did so, whether he can understand the causes of the crimes. accused, if he understands the range of possible convictions and if he has the capacity to testify in his own defense.

      The reasons why a person cannot be judged are as diverse as possible brain injury, dementia, intellectual disability, or the presence of psychopathology.

      To be able to verify this, psychologists use psychometric evaluation methods or tests.

      5. Assessment of the victim’s condition

      It not only aims to know the characteristics of the offender, but also to know the status of the victim.. In other words, it aims to discover the effects of the act you have experienced on your mental health, which can be particularly traumatic in the event of attempted murder, sexual abuse or ill-treatment.

      6. Prevention

      Lastly, criminal psychology has a preventive goal, because knowing the crime also makes it possible to prevent it by intervening on the groups most likely to commit it.

      Thus, this discipline, know the biopsychosocial factors that have a link with the emergence and development of crime in order to reduce crime through prevention programs. The aim is to improve knowledge of crime and its prevention.

      Bibliographical references:

      • Maple, R. and Flour, F. (2006). Witness psychology and cognitive assessment of the veracity of testimonies and statements. In JC Serra, EM Jiménez and G. Buela-Casal (Coords.), Forensic Psychology: A Handbook of Techniques and Applications (pp. 563-601). Madrid: Biblioteca Nueva.
      • Durrant, R. (2013). An introduction to criminal psychology. New York: Routledge.
      • Farrington, D. (2004). Criminological Psychology in the 21st Century. Criminal Behavior and Mental Health, 14, 152-166.
      • Hollin, CR (2013). Psychology and crime. An introduction to criminological psychology. New York: Routledge.
      • Otín del Castillo, JM (2009). Criminal psychology: applied police intervention and investigation techniques. Valladolid: Lex Nova.
      • Albiñana-Durà, J. (2015). Criminal psychology. Criminality. Center for the Study and Prevention of Crime. Miguel Hernández University

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