Are criminals rational decision-makers, or are they motivated by uncontrollable psychological and emotional drives?

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Walter Fischer eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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People are motivated by numerous factors and may commit crimes for both physiological and practical reasons. A brain tumor can be the cause of behavior that crosses the line between legal and/or socially acceptable and illegal and aberrant conduct, as can the ingestion of certain types of drugs, whether legally or illegally procured. A normally law-abiding individual might be motivated to commit an illegal act out of desperation—for example, severe financial pressure—or out of vengeance for a perceived wrong committed against them. With the so-called “insanity defense,” the defendant in a criminal trial argues (or, more accurately, their lawyer argues) that the individual on trial did not understand the difference between right and wrong due to diminished mental capacity or delusional tendencies.

The literature on crime is voluminous and diverse. Study organized crime and you will encounter multitudes of individuals motivated to commit crimes out of a belief that it is a better...

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