What is the psychoanalytic theory of criminology?

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The psychoanalytic theory of criminology holds that people commit crimes for psychological reasons.  This theory comes largely from the work of Sigmund Freud.

Freud argues that human nature is inherently antisocial.  People are born with an id that pushes them to essentially act in selfish ways.  However, society and its rules create a superego that tries to suppress the id.  The id can be seen as our bad side telling us to do bad things while our superego tries to persuade us to do the things that are socially acceptable.

Strangely enough, though psychoanalytic theory does not hold that crime is caused by an id that is out of control.  Instead, it holds that there is either something wrong with our superego or with our ego (the part of us that essentially mediates between the id and the superego).  We can commit crimes because our egos simply ignore our superegos.  We can commit crimes because our superegos have been badly trained as we have grown up with bad influences.  Finally, we can commit crimes out of frustration because our superego is too strong and makes us feel very guilty.  We want to be punished and so we do things that will get us punished.

These theories, of course, cannot really be tested.  We cannot tell if we even have an id, an ego, and a superego, let alone how much each one contributes to any criminal actions we might engage in.