The Major Contributions



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In 1939 Sutherland developed a theory of criminal behaviour called differential association that suggested like many other actions, crime is a product of learning. (Hopkins Burke, 2001). The differential association theory alleged that criminal behaviour is learnt from interacting with other people. Attitudes, values and beliefs are adopted, as well as the methods of how to actually commit crimes. (Coleman and Norris, 2000). Bandura (1977) supported this notion with his social learning theory and his Bobo doll study.

Sutherland argued that criminal behaviour will take place when individuals have obtained sufficient sentiments in favour of law violation to outweigh their non criminal tendencies. (Gibbons, 1979). Sutherland claimed that he had ‘formulated a general explanation that could be applied to very divergent types of illegal activity. ‘ (Lilly, Cullen and Ball, 1989:58). He supported his claim by studying ‘slum youths’ and white collar crime, which both showed that differential association was a critical factor on determining criminal behaviour.

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(Lilly, Cullen and Ball, 1989). However Coleman and Norris (2000) found that many criminologists and sociologists have criticised the theory on the grounds that it is ‘vague and untestable’ and ‘therefore not a scientific theory. ‘ Hopkins Burke (2001) stated that the theory ignores personality traits and is unable to explain ‘spontaneous crimes of passion’. Hans Eysenck’s (1977) theory focused on crime and personality. He argued that there is a connection between genetically based personality traits and criminal behaviour. (Haralambos and Holborn, 2000).

This idea can be illustrated by 3 scales; introversion-extroversion, neuroticism -stability and psychoticism. Extroverts tend to be active, sociable, lively and crave excitement, whereas introverts tend to be careful, reliable and passive. (Coleman and Norris, 2000). Extroverts have a much lower level of arousal compared to introverts and are much less susceptible to pain. (Blackburn, 1993). Neurotic personalities tend to be depressive, moody and have low levels of self esteem, whereas those at the other end of this scale are emotionally stable.

(Carver and Scheier, 2000). Most people lie in between the two extremes of introversion-extroversion and neuroticism-stability. A person who is high on the psychotic scale would show characteristics such as aggression, cruelty and insensitivity. (Coleman and Norris, 2000). Eysenck and Gudjonsson (1989) discovered that ‘those with low arousability are less likely to learn prosocial behaviour and more likely to learn criminal and deviant behavioural patterns. ‘ Therefore they concluded that the criminal is a neurotic extrovert. (Akers, 1997:46).

Kohlberg’s (1987) theory proposed three levels of moral reasoning, each level consisting of two stages. Each level symbolizes three forms of relationships between a person and the rules of society. Progression through the stages is reliant on suitable levels of cognitive development and social perception, which ‘are necessary, though not sufficient prerequisites for a shift in reasoning’. (Blackburn, 1993:126). Kohlberg viewed criminal behaviour as part of a malfunction in moral development, and so criminals tend to move more slowly up the scale and tend not to reach the higher stages.

(Blackburn, 1993). Many psychologists found the theory to have problems on ideological and empirical grounds. The theory was criticised by Bandura (1986), he viewed that the ‘level of moral reasoning varies across domains of content, and that people are selective in their use of the moral principles they understand’. (Blackburn, 1993:130). Thornton (1987) found that although people who attain higher moral stages are less likely to take part in criminal behaviour, explanations for illegal conduct can be found at all stages in the theory.

However considerable support for the validity of the theory has been gathered. For instance, Blackburn (1993) found that on average delinquents show developmental delay in the form of lower maturity levels more than non-delinquents. (Blackburn, 1993). In conclusion we can see that the first significant psychological theory of crime was Freud’s psychoanalysis theory, since then many other researchers have discovered important theories such as Bowlby’s maternal deprivation, Eysenck’s crime and personality, Sutherland’s differential association and Kohlberg’s moral reasoning.

These theories are all relevant to our understanding of the causes of crime. General criticisms of these psychological theories are: They fail to take into account social and cultural factors when explaining crime. Many of the studies have questionable methodological issues, such as how can we measure personality traits and what constitutes as mental health? And numerous sociologists are dubious about studies regarding childhood experiences as most neglect influential social factors. (Haralambos and Holborn, 2000).

Bibliography Akers, R. L.(1997) Criminological Theories: Introduction and Evaluation (2nd Edition) California: Roxbury Publishing Company. Blackburn, R. (1993) The Psychology of Criminal Conduct: Theory, Research and Practice. Chichester: Wiley. Carver, C ; Scheier, M. (2000) Perspectives on Personality. London: Allyn and Bacon. Coleman, C. ; Norris, C. (2000) Introducing Criminology. Devon: Willan Publishing. Garland, D. (1997) ‘Of Crimes and Criminals: The Development of Criminology in Britain’ in Maguire, M. Morgan, R. ; Reiner, R. (eds) The Oxford Handbook of Criminology. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Gibbons, D. C. (1997) The Criminological Enterprise. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc. Gottfredson, M. R. ; Hirschi, T. (1990) A General Theory of Crime. California: Stanford University Press. Gross, R. D. (1987) Psychology: The Science of Mind and Behaviour. London: Edward Arnold. Haralambos, M. Holborn, M. ; Heald, R. (2000) Sociology: Themes and Perspectives (5th Edition) . London: Collins. Hopkins Burke, R. (2001) An Introduction to Criminological Theory. Devon: Willan Publishing. Lilly, J. R. Cullen, F. T. ; Ball, R. A. (1989) Criminological Theory: Context and Consequences. London: Sage.

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