Chapter 7: Psychological/Trait Theories of Crime


Hans Eysenck—Theory of Crime Personality



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Hans Eysenck—Theory of Crime Personality

  • Developed a theory that linked personality to criminality.

  • Human personality can be viewed in three dimensions (i.e., the PEN-model).

  • Developed the Eysenck Personality Questionnaire (EPQ) to measure individuals on these three dimensions.

    • Psychoticism

      • Individuals considered to have high psychoticism are associated with being aggressive, cold, egocentric, impersonal, impulsive, antisocial, unempathetic, creative, and tough-minded; individuals with low psychoticism are characterized as being empathic, unselfish, altruistic, warm, peaceful, and generally more pleasant.

    • Extraversion

      • Associated traits of being sociable, lively, active, assertive, sensation-seeking, carefree, dominant, surgent, and venturesome.

    • Neuroticism (instability)

      • Linked with such traits as being anxious, depressed, guilty feelings, low self-esteem, tense, irrational, shy, moody, and emotional.

  • Initially, Eysenck focused on two personality dimensions: neuroticism and extraversion.

    • During this stage of theoretical development, he emphasized the extraversion dimension.

  • Subsequently, he incorporated the psychoticism dimension.

    • Thus, he moved “from his original concept of criminals as extraverts to identifying them with arch-villainous psychopaths.”

  • In an effort to explain individual differences in criminality, Eysenck maintained that these can be understood in terms of biology.

    • He offered three arguments: 1) genetics, 2) Pavlovian conditioning; and 3) neurophysiology.

      • In terms of genetics, or heredity, Eysenck drew on data collected from twins.

        • He stated that “these data…demonstrate, beyond any question, that heredity plays an important, and possibly a vital part, in predisposing a given individual to crime.”

      • The second argument, Pavlovian conditioning, is an essential point of his biological explanation.

        • Socialized and altruistic behavior had to be learned and this learning was mediated by means of Pavlovian conditioning.

        • The argument was that it is more difficult to condition extraverts compared to introverts.

      • The last type of argument was initially based on brain physiology.

        • The differences between extraverted and introverted behavior was due to cortical arousal.

        • Extraverts are characterized by a low level of cortical arousal.

        • They are less susceptible to pain and punishment as well as experience less fear and anxiety.

        • The cortical arousal level is also associated with psychoticism.

        • Those scoring high on psychoticism are more difficult to condition as well as more prone to developing antisocial behavior.

  • There has been mixed support for Eysenck’s model of personality and criminality.

    • Individuals scoring high on psychoticism are often linked to criminal behavior regardless of the methodology.

    • When employing self-report methods, extraversion is usually higher among the general population but not among criminal offender samples.




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