Research Freud and prepare an outline on his contributions to the explanation of criminality. Compare his explanation with other past and current psychological theories of criminality, and assess...

Research Freud and prepare an outline on his contributions to the explanation of criminality. Compare his explanation with other past and current psychological theories of criminality, and assess whether or not Freud's theories fit the current thinking on causes of criminal behavior. 

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The great psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud held that one's childhood played a tremendously significant role in the formation of the adult. In terms of criminal behavior, Freud contended that 

  • Criminal behavior can be traced back to deep-rooted problems in childhood. If parents are neglectful, the superego does not develop and the id will dominate and demand satisfaction, often immediate gratification, of urges.
  • Behavior and unconscious motives are often connected, and their interaction can produce criminal behavior. Often, traumas and abuse, especially by mothers, are the foundation of sexual crimes against women.
  • Deep-rooted problems in childhood produce psychoses in adulthood. Criminal behavior is essentially a manifestation of psychological conflict.

Modern psychologists, psychiatrists, and criminologists still hold that negative childhood experience plays a crucial role in criminal behavior. In addition, they contend that inadequate or improper socialization also plays a significant role in criminality as socialization determines cognitive development. This concept is beyond Freudian theory as it identifies Social Learning Theory, and Cognitive Theory, as well as discoveries in science. The Social Learning Theory holds that an individual learns a behavior when it is reinforced and in not learned if there is no reinforcement. Within this theory is the concept of "Differential Association" which holds that criminal behavior is learned as opposed to the cause/effect of Freudian theory:

  • Criminal behavior is acquired through interaction with other persons, especially within intimate groups
  • If a person learns that it is more favorable to violate the law in his environment, he will exhibit criminal behavior
  • This learning includes the adoption of motives, impulses, and attitudes toward criminality as well as the acquisition of techniques for committing crimes.--

--The "Cognitive Theory" also comes into play in the contemporary lexicon of criminality. That is, offenders of the law have failed to develop their moral judgment capacity beyond the "pre-conventional level." This is only stage one of three stages of Cognitive Development

  • Pre-Conventional Level- Children (9-11) will consider the short-term consequences of committing a crime. (i.e. "What happens if I get caught?")
  • Conventional Level - Adolescents consider the morality of an act against the law. ("It is wrong to steal, so I should not, no matter what the circumstances are.")
  • Post-Conventional Level - Adults 20 and over critically examine issues of custom and society and measure them according to their own perspective of human rights.

--The "Criminal Personality Theories" are those theories that hold with the development of criminality as a result of deep-seated personality disorders.

  • Low intelligence, impulsive tendencies, and insensitivity to others ["lack of empathy"] are identified as conditions of many offenders.
  • Hans Eysenck contends that criminal behavior may be the result of both conditioning and personality differences (i.e. neuroses and extroversion are found in many offenders). Some people resist proper social conditioning and develop antisocial behaviors, instead.

Further, scientific study of the brains of criminals, especially murderers, reveals that the broad area of the cortex is often larger than in the normal brain. Also, high testosterone levels and other biological and chemical imbalances can exist in those men who exhibit aggressive and violent behavior.

While Freud's theories yet work in criminology, there are other theories and developments which contribute, beyond the scope of the Freudian analysis.